Monthly Archives: August 2017


Artist: The New Year

Label: Snow

Release Date: April 28, 2017

The Upshot: A reminder that art serves an entirely different function—and has a more personal raison d’être—than popular music.


It’s been nine years between LPs for The New Year, which in today’s high-velocity music-verse feels more like a century than a decade. But for Snow, the Kadane brothers’ fourth full-length in this incarnation, the long wait suits a type of music that preternaturally rewards patience. (Matt and Bubba Kadane were also the driving creative force in slowcore heroes Bedhead, recently feted here for their excellent Numero Uno box set).

The band’s modus operandi—leisurely tempos braided with twin guitar lines, various subtle keyboard accents and slow-burn crescendos—works brilliantly as an antidote to the ADD electro-pop hustle of today’s quick-turnover music scene.  Yes, the music world The New Year left is 2008 is significantly different than the one they’ve re-emerged into, but they’ve remained true—which is a big part of the draw here.

That’s because no amount of digitization can remove the bugs from human nature. That’s one of the central conceits of Snow and the LP’s catchy centerpiece, “Recent History” (the closest thing you’ll find to a single here). “There’s nothing wrong with the 21st century, that wasn’t wrong with the 20th, too, we’re as at a loss for what to do,” Bubba sings in his speak/sing delivery as the song’s tension builds, “There’s nothing in our recent history that’s new in me and you/so why are we surprised?”

Like many other tracks on Snow, “Recent History” generates considerable heat by its conclusion, a New Year trick that belies the relaxed tempos and the slacker-friendly vocals. Instead of dramatic tempo shifts or sing-along choruses, the songs rely on subtle texture and tempo changes that, in context, wind up carrying far more weight than they would in another setting. The 6-minute title track ratchets up the tension with a simple cymbal ride and increasingly concentrated keyboard fills; the circular guitar riff on “Homebody” tightens almost imperceptibly with each turn.

Much of Snow is about memory—how it distorts as much as it vanishes —and thus song titles like “Amnesia” or “Myths.”  The latter addresses even the band’s recent past in the most New Year way possible. Over a strummed acoustic and slow-build tempo that’s peppered only with keyboards for most of its five-and-a-half-minute run, Bubba acknowledges that the “The best things we’ve done won’t live on/When what we were is gone”—that is, unless “myths are made/As the memories fade/And we loom large in their imagination.”

You could see such sentiments as nihilistic, but I prefer to see them as a call to arms—an un-jaundiced view of human nature refreshes in its own way. Is there a viable market in 2017 for what the New Year’s peddling? No, but then there never has been. (This is what gives the LP’s opening line on “Mayday”—”Mayday, mayday, we’ve left our heyday/searching the coffers for empty offers”—its wonderful ironic bite.) Like the rest of Snow, it’s a reminder that art serves an entirely different function—and has a more personal raison d’être—than popular music.

So if this review is part of the myth-making—happy to be of service.

DOWNLOAD: “Recent History,” “Snow,” “Myths” and “The Beast”

IRON & WINE — Beast Epic

Album: Beast Epic

Artist: Iron & Wine

Label: Sub Pop

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Simplicity and ease win the day on Sam Beam’s first solo release in four decades.


Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam pares things back to essentials for this sixth full-length, his first solo release in four years. A calm permeates eleven uncluttered, unfussed songs, as Beam carries pretty melodies with a quiet voice through warm, casually right arrangements of guitar, stringed instruments, keyboards, bass and drums. It’s a little sleepy, but picturesque and redolent of the basic stuff of human life, sort of like the southern towns that Beam’s lyrics depict (“Every traffic light is red when it tells the truth/The church bell isn’t kidding when it cries for you,” from “Thomas County Law”).

Beam worked with a familiar crew. Longtime keyboard player Rob Burger is on hand again, littering “Song in Stone” with twinkling piano and layering thick ribbons of organ onto “Call It Dreaming.”  Sebastian Steinberg lays in a subtle plunk of bass that you can hear most clearly in staccato, jazz-inflected “Last Night.”  Two Califone vets — percussionist Joe Adamik and utility player Jim Becker (guitar, mandolin, banjo and violin) —lend a certain ghostly roots complexity. And Teddy Rankin Parker is everywhere in the corner of your ear, coaxing rich throbs of bowed emotional resonance from his cello. On paper, that sounds like a lot of players and, perhaps, a certain amount of busy-ness, but in practice the sound is light and bright and simple sounding, a frame rather than a filter for Beam’s songwriting ideas.

Indeed simplicity and ease win the day on Beast Epic, which foreswears interesting sidebars like trance blues wanderings of Shepherd’s Dog or the Latin drama of Beam’s collaborations with Calexico, or even the conversational tensions of recent duets with Jesca Hoop. Instead cuts like “Call It Dreaming” feel focused and well-edited, as if Beam had taken a blue pencil to his wildest ideas and cut out all the diversions. The result is modest and warm and a damn near perfect of expression of his folk-pop core. Don’t look for fireworks here, but rather smaller, quieter revelations that take time to unveil themselves.

DOWNLOAD: “Call It Dreaming”

THE YES MASTERS – The Number 6 Is In Red

Album: The Number 6 Is In Red

Artist: Yes Masters

Label: No Threes

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Punk. Garage. Glam. Pop. Prog. The Yes Masters are in control. Any questions?


Kurt T. Bloch deserves better. I mean, he’s the Northwest equivalent of a fuggin’ Renaissance man, a constant presence on the Amerindie music scene since the ‘80s as a key member of groups like the Young Fresh Fellows, the Fastbacks, and assorted offshoots, plus a producer of everyone from the Presidents of the United States of America to Flop to the Minus 5/Venus 3 to Robyn Hitchcock—and an all-around bon vivant/raconteur type of inspiration to everyone who’s ever come into contact with him.

Yet his Wikipedia page—from which you can glean the same stats outlined above—is criminally lean, and if you do a search on his name and, say, “Pitchfork,” “Stereogum,” or “Spin” you’re likely to land on, at best, a notation of the Filthy Friends supergroup that he’s in with Pete Buck, Corin Tucker, Scott McCaughey, and Bill Rieflin (they recorded an anti-Trump anthem for Dave Eggers’ 30 Days, 30 Songs project last year). Well, as a teeshirt I used to own declared, fuck that trendy shit. (The music publications, not the Filthy Friends.)

The Yes Masters is Bloch, bassist Matt Scientist, and drummer Rick Foundation, and what we have with The Number 6 Is In Red is punk-and-garage extravaganza guaranteed to leave you with a sore throat and a sore wrist and a ringing in the ears indicative of looming tinnitus in your future. (The wrist part, in case you didn’t guess, would be from pumping your fist in the air for the duration of these 13 hi-nrg anthems.)

Things kick off with a lo-fi blast of an opener smartly titled “2nd Season Opener,” Bloch sweetly intoning such sentiments as, “This is where our time stood still/ Know full well most certainly it always will/ Picking up a signal from the past/ This connection definitely will not last.” That’s followed by the Ramones-a-fied “Faulty Wiring” (a mental-discombobulation title that Joey would surely salute), and that by glam-punk-power pop stomper “Fire Engine Green.” Whew. The gents are not gonna offer any moments to catch your breath, so best not drain your beer just yet, because soon enough you’re gonna get the brick-inna-face treatment via the shredder thrash of “Grave Digger Baby,” the straight-up snot-teen garage surliness of “Options 9,” and the itchy, arpeggiated rant that is “Dead End Street Sign.” Did I mention they also throw in their versions of two Prog suite (“I Love to Change My Mind” and the instrumental “Summer Theme”), complete with the best non-Brian May guitar solos you’ll hear all year?

Nobody fucking around here, by the way—but they are telling the general public to fuck off and shut up, because The Yes Masters are in control for the duration. Challenge their dominance at your own risk.

Consumer Note: Available digitally, of course, but why on earth would you take the wimp’s convenient way out when you could score this on sweet colored vinyl? Mine is on heavy-gram clear wax, and you have options of green and white as well (download included), so your course is clear.

DOWNLOAD: “Faulty Wiring,” “Every Time I Hear That Sound,” “Fire Engine Green”


Album: Far From Over

Artist: Vijay Iyer Sextet

Label: ECM

Release Date: August 25, 2017

The Upshot: Pianist Iyer has already proven himself a jazz master, but here he takes his talent as composer, player, and bandleader to new heights.


Pianist Vijay Iver has built an impressive career over twenty years, channeling his interests in classical music, physics, music cognition and, of course, jazz into a substantial body of work that continues to grow. Far From Over, his first recorded project with his Sextet, not only adds an item to his catalog – it also marks a new milestone.

Iyer’s varied background gives him a distinctive touch. Though he has fifteen years of classical training on the violin, he’s a self-taught pianist, which allows him to simultaneously understand the rules and know how to break them. (Arguably the mark of any great jazz musician.) The New York native walks that thin but beautiful line between in and out, staying melodic even as he ignores a song’s key or tempo to explore. Listen to his runs on “Down To the Wire,” as he races up and down the keyboard with ever-increasing aggression, but never any loss of control, or his solo on “Good On the Ground,” which rattles, rock and rolls logically, rather than anarchically. He’s matched in his nimble dancing by drummer Tyshawn Storey and longtime bassist Stephan Crump, who follow their leader closely but get plenty of room to add their own touches. The horn players that fill out the band, including longtime Iyer associate Steve Lehman and Blue Note veteran Mark Shim on sax and M-Base co-founder Graham Haynes on brass, fit right into Iyer’s conceptions, handling dense orchestration or free-wheeling solos with equal skill and aplomb.

None of this would matter without a solid foundation on which to stand, and it’s as a compositional architect that Iyer truly shines. “Into Action” and “Nope” ride funky grooves without coming anywhere near fusion, the players carrying the melodies with a relaxed sense of joy. Boasting a beautiful but non-romantic melody, “For Amira Baraka” flows like a river through a forest at sunset, meditative but consistently in motion. “Poles” and “Good On the Ground” field hot pepper rhythms that jump around without flying off to the side, adding vibrant piano and horn hooks atop the bounce. Iyer explores his avant garde side on “End of the Tunnel,” deftly mixing electronic eccentricity into a jazz tone poem that’s less stuffy than sonorous.

Iyer really makes an effort here to highlight all sides of his musical skills, letting two decades of experience boil into an exceptionally tasty dish. Iyer has already proven himself a jazz master, but with Far From Over, he takes his talent as composer, player and bandleader to new heights.

DOWNLOAD: “Down To the Wire,” “For Amiri Baraka,” “Good On the Ground”


PAUL KELLY – Life Is Fine

Album: Life Is Fine

Artist: Paul Kelly

Label: Cooking Vinyl

Release Date: August 11, 2017

The Upshot: Prolific Aussie submits a lyrically-rich return-to-form.


Paul Kelly is one of those musical exports – alongside folks like Graham Parker and Dave Edmunds – that never really caught on big in the U.S., relegated to the “cult status” neighborhood despite turning in one brilliant album after the next. His latest, Life Is Fine just underscores that yet again, as the Australian singer songwriter offers yet another great collection of songs.

Life Is Fine is a welcome return-to-form for Kelly, as he brings back a full band for this set and while there aren’t any raucous barnburners here, Kelly & Co aren’t afraid to plug in and layer on some R&B, like on the album opener “Rising Moon” and the Vika Bull-fronted “My Man’s Got a Cold” or the Blues-soaked “Firewood And Candles”. There are snatches of Dylan, both lyrically and through Kelly’s vocals throughout, especially on a song like the beautiful “Letter In The Rain,” but he still manages to come off original despite the obvious musical touchstone.


Kelly has been anything but absent for the past few years, turning in one ambitiously creative album after the next, including a collection of funeral songs (2016’s Death’s Dateless Night) as well as a couple of collections adapted from others poetry. And while, those were solid albums, Life Is Fine boasts some of Kelly’s best lyrics in years.

DOWNLOAD: “Finally Something Good, Life Is Fine” and “Letter In The Rain”

Steve Earle & the Dukes 8/1/17, Omaha

Dates: August 1, 2017

Location: The Slowdown, Omaha NE


Onstage at The Slowdown, the rock ‘n’ roll gunslinger had an Omaha showdown to prove he is, indeed, one of our finest living elder statesmen.


Steve Earle is a hardcore son of a bitch.

For the better part of four decades, he has blazed a trail of truths that few, if any, in music today will even broach, let alone have the lyrical prowess to hang with Mr. Earle. Finally, after years of fandom, I was getting to see Steve Earle live, the man himself in action and it was everything I thought it would be. The intimate setting of The Slowdown, a venue situated in downtown Omaha next to an Urban Outfitters, holding 800 strong in attendance, was the perfect place to see Earle and his band The Dukes, weave tales of lost love, immigrant strife, a drunken week, or the Holy City of Jerusalem.

On the road supporting the exceptional new record, Steve Earle and the Dukes’ So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, Steve and the Dukes showed why they should be considered in the “best of” conversation; stacking the 25-song-strong setlist with the most standout tracks from the new record, notably “Goodbye Michelangelo” (written in memory of the recently departed mentor/songwriting great Guy Clark), the shout out to all the “hot shots” out there battling the ever present wildfires (“Firebreak Line”) or the sound of a man at peace with his choices in life, at peace with his place, his future. (“Fixin’ to Die”).

Where Earle stands above the rest as a songwriter is his ability to convey heartbreak, a sincerity that is strong to a fault, and the joy he seems to find with the creation of art that will stand long after he has shaken loose this mortal coil. He has mined the self-doubt and resignation that hangs above those that staff the death houses in America’s prisons (“Ellis Unit One”) and Earle’s stance on the deeply flawed culture built around retribution, the misguided belief that two wrongs make a right. He’s told stories of moonshiners (“Copperhead Road”), confusing religion with God (“Jerusalem”), gunslingers (“Hardin Wouldn’t Run”), immigration (“City of Immigrants”), segregation (“Taneytown”), or what happens when you turn your back on responsibility and head for the border (“A Week of Living Dangerously”).

Steve has spent his life telling those who would listen what he believes in, even as he fell deeper and deeper into his own demons, channeling the frustration that comes with the hells of addiction, the soul shattering bottoms and otherworldly highs, all the while becoming one of America’s greatest songsmiths. Earle helped create a genre, blending country aspects and rock n roll spirit, and on this August Midwestern night, as he has done on countless nights in endless towns before, he proved that he is not planning to go quietly into that good night.

Building a legend through his words, marathon length shows, surviving seven marriages (twice to the same woman), sixteen records, and a drug intake that rivalled Keith Richards, the granddaddy of rock star excess, he survived it all and still has very moving stories to tell. For those that focus on the legendary wild times and the even wilder truths, they are missing the point.

Earle’s body of work stands higher than the stories, his approach to writing, drawing from his personal heroes Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt, helped lay the bricks for a road that he shares with Dylan, Springsteen, Willie Nelson, and Neil Young in terms of songwriting ability and lyrical superiority. This, my friends, is a road that faux country stars like Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan, Brantley Gilbert, and every other joker out there claiming to be country, insisting to all that will listen to be outlaw, will never see, much less tread. When all those are washed away by time and changing fads, Earle’s work will stand above the wreckage as an example of how to write and song and rise above chaos to leave an indelible mark on the world.

The Steve Earle that took the stage this night is not the Steve Earle of old. This man on the stage was older, wiser, happier, and somehow better than he was in his so-called glory days of “Guitar Town”; he’s accepted that he is doing what he was put here to do and that he does it better than most anyone out there running today. He has aged into an elder statesman of country injected rock n roll, a champion for all those left behind or oppressed. Much like Cash before him, he speaks to the common man, speaking for those that have no voice.

Steve Earle is a hardcore son of a bitch, he speaks the truth and I am glad I finally had the chance to hear it.

In Love with These Times: My Life with Flying Nun Records, by Roger Shepherd

Title: In Love With These Times

Author: Roger Shepherd

Publisher: Harper Collins New Zealand

Publication Date: June 01, 2016 /


The music of New Zealand’s Flying Nun Records made such a huge impact on me when I first heard it in the mid-late ‘80s that I honestly can’t see anyone not liking it. Oh sure, it all had its lovable quirks—and some of the music was downright menacing, like the Gordons or Bailter Space—but stuff like The Chills or The Bats should’ve been million sellers, at least in my mind. Well, the gent who started it all on the back of a 7” by The Pin Group (but the next single, The Clean’s “Tally Ho!” really got the ball rolling), Roger Shepherd, has written a book about those days and it’s a terrific read.  Shepherd was born in 1959 in a dingy part of Christchurch and was an odd fellow, by his own admission, who sort of accidentally fell in to a small but burgeoning music scene. Between having older siblings and just being in the right place at the right time Shepherd haphazardly created one of the best and most influential record labels in the world…making it up as they went along (the ol’ punk rock aesthetic). At one point he met the Kilgour brothers, David and Hamish, of The Clean, who were showing everyone else how to do it.  The Clean were writing top-notch songs their own way as were several several others like Martin Phillipps of the Chills (whose sister Rachel worked at F.N.), Chris Knox, Shayne Carter and plenty of others.

Along the way Shepherd develops a nasty alcohol problem, moves to London to help the label thrive, falls in love there and gets married, and ends up losing the label—and then buying it back with the help of Neil Finn. Eventually he, his wife, and two daughters end up back in New Zealand and here we are today with the label still going. It’s a great read…Shepherd can be hilarious and, at times, brutally honest; he found out later in life he’s manic depressive and thus he figured out that was how he was able to create those amazing highs of the label. In Love with These Times is a quick but comprehensive read of a little label that could. There’s probably too many labels to mention who claim FN as a huge influence (NYC’s Captured Tracks for one, who have reissued some of the stuff over here), and Shepherd deserves every accolade that has been thrown his way.

The book is a rush from beginning to end and you must ride this one. Side note: I met Shepherd on my trip to N.Z. in February of ’91 where I tromped up the steps to the F.N. offices in Auckland and introduced myself to him where he was more than happy to chat for bit.


COATHANGERS – Parasite 12” EP

Album: Parasite 12" EP

Artist: Coathangers

Label: Suicide Squeeze

Release Date: May 05, 2017

The Upshot: Parasites’ presence or not, there’s no sucking here—just balls-to-the-wall (term used loosely) ground zero distaff punk, with power chords a-powerin’ and anthemic vocal choruses a-chorusin’.


If we weren’t a family friendly publication I’d love simply reprinting all the Coathangers’ lyrics, libretto-style and accompanied by chord instructions, in lieu of another silly review. Can I at least scribble down the terms “get out of my fucking life,” “you’re acting like a little cunt,” “who made a prince out of you,” and—my favorite epithet—“swiss cheese brain”? [No. –Standards & Practices Ed.] At any rate, Atlanta’s premiere distaff trio is takin’ names and summarily burning ‘em on a pyre of… well, not love. These ladies are pissed, and they have no intention of taking things on the chin.

Parasite is a 5-song 12-inch vinyl EP – on stunningly gorgeous green marble wax, at that, with all the tracks assembled on side A in order that side B can be given over to an artful etching; kudos to record designer Helena Darling — and it certainly should be regarded as far more than the usual “stopgap release” status typically bestowed between already prominent bands’ albums. From the ground zero punk ranter opening track “Parasite” (choppy chords courtesy the School of Buzzcocks) to the moody tribal psychedelia of “Down Down” (a cross between vintage Television and contemporary Savages) to the impossibly anthemic “Wipeout” (a mélange of great girl groups throughout history, from ‘60s bouffant queens to latterday chopped-and-coiffed swagger galls), this is nonstop fun.

Consumer Note: LP comes with digital download, a nod to fans that should not be overlooked. A lot of major label artists don’t bother to go the extra mile in that regard, so let’s give credit where credit is due.

DOWNLOAD: All of it, but if pressed to the wall for a single standout, I’d have to submit “Down Down” as it is already on my personal mixtape and the BLURT Spotify playlist.

LOOK BLUE GO PURPLE – Still Bewitched LP

Album: Still Bewitched

Artist: Look Blue Go Purple

Label: Flying Nun

Release Date: May 05, 2017

The Upshot: Distaff Dunedin rockers from the ‘80s have their debut reissue and expanded.


The all-female 5-piece from Dunedin were one of  the most enchanting, bewitching (yup) bands on the Flying Nun roster and heck, 30 years on they still sound enchanting, unique…at times magical. It was in the mid-late ‘80s that I started getting turned on to many of the Flying Nun bands usually by friends or reviews in zines and I instantly fell in love with the label and its roster of bands (as I’ve mentioned many times on this site before) but this band was a mystery. Unlike the Chills, The Bats or the Clean they never toured the USA so none of us fans ever got to see them and only ever saw a few pictures of the band (which added to the  mystery) and , in more recently years, some You Tube footage.

In their day the ladies released three EPs between the years 1985 and 1987: Bewitched, LBGPEP2 and This is This and promptly broke up. Guitarist Denise Roughan went on to many other N.Z. bands while drummer Lesley Paris ended up managing the Flying Nun label and the other three, Kath Webster, Kathy Bull and Norma O’Malley, who knows. Anyway after that long lead in I’m here to tell you that the Flying Nun label has graciously reissued these tracks and more (some live ones) on vinyl in a beautiful gatefold sleeve and its glorious (available on cd, too). It’s the original 14 songs plus 5 bonus live tracks. The music was poppy and jangly at times but their secret weapon Norma O’Malley who not only added keyboards to the tunes but also some well-placed flute that pushes the songs over the top. Also, the ladies harmonized perfectly and well, could just write some really terrific songs. Listen to ace pop cuts like “Safety in Crosswords,” “As Does the Sun” (for some of that flute), “Circumspect Penelope,” “Vain Hopes” and the crown jewel, the upbeat blast of “Cactus Cat.”

If you missed the boat the first time around and have even a passing interest in the Flying Nun label (or uhh… good music in general) then don’t miss Still Bewitched. It’s great.

DOWNLOAD:  “Cactus Cat,” “Safety in Crosswords,” “As Does the Sun,” “Circumspect Penelope”


TUNABUNNY – PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr. LP

Album: PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr.

Artist: Tunabunny

Label: Happy Happy Birthday To Me

Release Date: June 23, 2017

The Upshot: At 28 songs, the potential for veering off the rails here is profound, yet the Athens band keeps its conceptual eye on the prize and arrives at the best set of tunes the Flying Nun label never released. Below, watch some of the group’s delightful videos.


Intrigued by the name? Ignore that first search hit you get for “tunabunny”—it’s a red herring. (Or, more likely, a detour to some gamers’ hack for the Clash of Kings MMMO.) Try, instead, this ridiculously talented and prodigious Athens band’s Bandcamp or Facebook page… I’ll give you some time here… okay, logged on? Found some audio and/or video? Not yet? Good. See below.

Wildly prolific, yet so cheekily oblivious to general matters of commerce and market exploitation—this is an outfit that still lists its MySpace page among its contact links (hint: try it anyway)—Tunabunny is part of a long line of Athens art-rockers ‘n’ upstarts stretching back to B-52s days and beyond; one could even argue that the group’s eye for mischief and ear for chaos is at least somewhat influenced by nearby Atlanta’s late great Hampton Grease Band, whose classic 1971 classic Music to Eat, was, like PCP Presents Alice In Wonderland Jr., a sprawling double-LP rife with conceptual lunacy and sonic serendipity (not to mention a collagist’s dream of sleeve art—the front cover above is ½ of one gem of a colorful and textural riot).

Mere words don’t do justice to either the album title or its contents, so let’s break for a moment:

Whew. At 28 songs, the potential for veering off the rails here is profound, yet Tunabunny keeps things lively and varied (pardon the staid description), not to mention psychedelic as hell and punk as fuck (pardon the old-school ‘ziners description). Riotous indie rock by any other name, it boasts sweetly arcing distaff vox, fuzzed-out guitars leavened by kosmiche drones and tones, and propulsive rhythms with backbeats ya can’t lose. (Flying Nun worship, anyone?)

Rumor has it that this is an answer record to the Beatles’ White Album, and with a few songtitles like “Julia” and “Revolution None,” one might be tempted to accept that at face value. Me, I never bought the Liz Phair myth about Exile in Guyville being an answer to Exile on Main Street, so it’s your call; personally, I’m sticking with the aforementioned Music to Eat nod, or perhaps even Trout Mask Replica. Either way (or not), this is some of the most fun stretched across four sides of beautiful heavyweight wax you’ll have in the gradually-declining summer of ’17. Anyone up for skinny-dipping in a rural Georgia pond?

DOWNLOAD: “I Thought I Caught It (With You),” “Blackwater Homes,” “Nevermind the Cobblestones,” “Incinerate,” “Pitocin Enduction Hour”