Category Archives: Vinyl records

KING BROTHERS – Wasteland

Album: Wasteland

Artist: King Brothers

Label: Hound Gawd!

Release Date: October 05, 2018

https://www.houndgawd.com/shop/en/SHOP/Vinyl/King-Brothers-Wasteland.html

BY JONATHAN LEVITT

I don’t often say it but where has this band been all of my life? Imagine this, if you take the John Spencer Blues Explosion’s unvarnished primal rock and the Miracle Workers’ bluesy stomp and grate a bit of Jim Jones and the Righteous Mind on top and then place it into a 350-degree oven and bake ‘til doomsday you might come up with the band King Brothers. I’m always impressed by bands from Japan that seem to possess an encyclopedic knowledge of a very specific style of rock and instead of being just mere imitators, are able to synthesize and place their own distinct stamp on it.  “Wasteland” is a stormer of an opener that is groovy and menacing at the same time.  And if you thought that couldn’t be beat then get ready for the barn burner of a tune “Bang! Blues” this song brings the goods, distortion cranked to 10, reverb, and that wonderful stutter snare roll combines for one mega crack to the dome. “Break on Through” is a thundering cruise down Route 66 heading to that rumble just outside the city limits and when the melee ensues, it goes down in slow motion, fists flying and blood spraying the scene.  “No! No! No!” cops the melody from The Who’s, “My Generation” but is more of a balls to the wall affair, I like the tune but wonder what the reasoning was for so transparently lifting from a band that seems to inform little of the bands oeuvre. What I don’t question is the lifting of the woo woo’s and partial song title from The Stone’s “Sympathy for the Devil” on the track “Sympathy for Xxxxx”. Given the album’s musical leanings, this makes a lot more sense, because it’s obvious that The Stones’ brand of blues rock informs certain elements of Wasteland. This is a truly impressive album and one which has been on constant rotation here in my office. This high-octane record is truly worth acquiring and if the band comes to the states I will be first in line to see them.

DOWNLOAD: “Wasteland” “Bang! Blues” “Kick Ass Rock” “Break on Through” “Sympathy for Xxxxx”

Watch the video for “No Want” elsewhere on the freakin’ BLURT website…..

 

THE MORLOCKS – Bring On The Mesmeric Condition

Album: Bring On The Mesmeric Condition

Artist: Morlocks

Label: Hound Gawd!

Release Date: August 31, 2018

 

https://www.houndgawd.com

2nd gen garage/psych monsters, now based in Germany, deliver a sonic shiv guaranteed to leave you in some knida “condition”,,, Check out some choice audio, below.

BY BARRY ST. VITUS

Be very excited, or perhaps, scared stiff, as the night-lurching Morlocks have returned from suspended animation with an explosive new album of soul-shredding raucous ‘n’ roll.

No matter their rotating line-ups over the decades, Leighton Koizumi and his band of Morlocks have continuously stood out as the most twisted fuck-ups, and undisputed champs of Gen.II of the ‘60’s punk and garage genre. Their sound has always stayed true to their school of The Stooges, MC5, Wayne/Jayne County and the Electric Chairs and so on. You know, the Good Stuff. With those influences, the absence of puny paisley pop, and Leighton’s ferocious puma-growl vocals, their live shows have never failed to decimate their audiences.

Based now in Germany, The Morlocks’  B.O.T.M.C. is the first new album is eight years, since the well-played The Morlocks Play Chess, ripping singeing covers of classic songs from the label. Now, assembled in studios in ‘various secret locations,’ an exceptional assemblage of heavy hitters; Marcello Salis –guitar (Gravedigger V,) drummer Rob Louwers (Q65, Link Wray, Fuzztones,) Oliver Pilsner – bass (Fuzztones,) and Bernadette –guitar (The Humpers.) Ex-Dirtbombs bassist, Jim Diamond produces, bringing a Motor City greasiness to the project. He also produced early White Stripes stuff. The end project is 34 minutes of ear-blasting, eye-popping and mind-mangling originals.

The mangling starts with “Bothering Me,” a late-sixties-era Stones-type basher that’s infectious in the extreme. “We Can Get Together,” struts off into N.Y. Dolls territory, keeping the high energy up. “Heart of Darkness,” really knocked me over, a very “Repo Man” kind of vibe going on. With maturity, Leighton’s voice has mellowed down to Iggy’s baritone level, like a charcoal-lined keg of aged whiskey. The first truly garage-punk number presented is “No One Rides For Free,” sounding like something Jayne County might do. Dirty blues-tinged punk is served up next with ”Down Underground.”

“Time To Move” really whips things up in a Iggy/Stones-flavored mash-up that will most likely kick your ass to Mars.  “One Foot In the Grave” rides pretty close to classic Morlocks material, with lots of snarl and slathered with Iggy and Flamin’ Groovies attitude. The first real fuzz-bomb to drop is “High Tide Killer,” which is reminiscent of a lot of the stuff exploding out of Sweden in the ‘80’s. Killer indeed! The hyper-energetic “Easy Action” is led off by a long drum beat intro, then power chords, and having the flavor of the Saints throughout, really cranking up the power-juice. The album closes with perhaps the best of the batch, a song that anyone who ever caught The Morlocks live in the ‘80’s will certainly remember, “You Don’t Know” which has been dusted off and polished to a high sheen, as well as tricked out with some of that electric jug sound innovated by the Elevators. This one is a real gem, folks!

All said and done, B.O.T.M.C. makes for an outrageous return for The Morlocks, and is easily their most sterling work to date. The material, the playing, and the production are incomparable in this genre or other hard-rock of late. The album could proudly take its place on the record shelf next to the catalog of almost all of the aforementioned bands and pretty much hold it’s own. Substance-wise it lives up to what it aspires to.

DOWNLOAD: “You Don’t Know,” “Heart of Darkness,” “High Tide Killer,” and “Easy Action.“

 

 

 

THE HASBROS – Cart Before the Horse LP

Album: Cart Before the Horse LP

Artist: The Hasbros

Label: Hasbin Music

Release Date: April 27, 2018

www.thehasbros.com

The Upshot: Indie outfit gets a chance to revisit its alt-rock heyday and update it for the modern era—but without sacrificing the freshness and energy that must have originally marked them.

BY FRED MILLS

Everybody loves a beat-the-odds, coulda-been-a-contender comeback story, and this one’s as sweet as they come. Hailing from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s NYC alt-rock scene, the Hasbros were briefly positioned for greatness, notching a few high-profile compilation appearances and attracting both label interest and college radio airplay, but, as cofounder Bob Hanophy drily notes in his liners to this much-belated LP, “it just wasn’t meant to be,” and the band split before releasing a full-length. Old story, right?

The members went on to various endeavors—the collective C.V. includes outfits like King Missile, Red Hare, Retisonic, and Garden Variety, as well as numerous solo recordings—and then, in a combined fit of restlessness and celebrating a birthday, Hanophy put out the call for a one-off reunion gig. “Everyone agreed to play and we had a blast,” he writes. “Amazingly, it sounded better than ever before and we decided to finally record the LP that we had always wanted to.”

Ergo, Cart Before the Horse, subtitled “the difficult first record” and issued by the band’s tellingly-named label Hasbin (get it?) Music. Hanophy (guitar/vocals), along with Ken O’Connor (guitar/bass), and Joe Gorelick (drums/vocals) have clearly recaptured their sound, and I say that without even knowing what their “sound” was. One detects vestigial traces of classic ‘80s janglepop in midtempo rocker “Later On” and the somewhat R.E.M.ish opening track “For the Best,” which has a careening, soaring quality that would’ve undoubtedly made the band a college radio darling. Husker Du was also an obvious influence upon the musicians, what with the blazing, yet richly melodic “Kenny” and the equally powerhouse punk anthemism of “Nothing At All” (which is also reprised among the bonus tracks as a low-fi-but-equally-blazing live cut from 1988). It would be easy to play spot-the-influence on numerous tracks here, but the larger point is that these guys internalized the lessons of their era and had the songwriting talent to craft material that, while reverential at times, was still wonderfully unique and deeply emotional. Listening to Cart… is like rediscovering a favorite album from back in the day and realizing that you’d also stashed a tape of unreleased material from the same sessions, tunes that are every bit as strong as the ones you remembered and cherished.

The vinyl LP is lovingly assembled with a full-color insert crammed with vintage photos, including a rather affecting pair of b&w shots that show the three musicians as they were in 1989 (see image at left), and then again in the current era, the former image all fresh-faced indie enthusiasm, the latter suggesting a satisfied “mission finally accomplished” attitude. (The download card contains four bonus tracks as well—nice touch, that.) Indeed, this is how a good rock ‘n’ roll story is supposed to turn out: not with recriminations and missed-opportunities-lamented; and not with lawsuits, overdoses, and the proverbial one-breakout-star-success; but with old friends remembering the magic they once made and can somehow still make, and determined to be the ultimate authors of the story rather than some music critic looking for some good-ol’-days/where-are-they-now nostalgia piece.

Here’s hoping the Hasbros have more chapters they intend to write.

DOWNLOAD: “For the Best,” “Kenny,” “That I Know,” “Nothing At All (live 1988)”

JOHNNY IRION – Driving Friend

Album: Driving Friend

Artist: Johnny Irion

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 18, 2018

www.johnnyirionmusic.com

The Upshot: Americana-tilting indie rock awash in glorious harmonies and melodies that’ll leave you humming them throughout the day. Available on both CD and sweet vinyl, incidentally. Check out some audio and video from the album, below.

BY FRED MILLS

Erstwhile North Carolina resident Johnny Irion—we here in the Tar Heel state are still proud to call him one of ours—has been blessed not once, but twice: First, he was born with one of the richest, sweetest singing voices on the planet, something that was evident even back in the ‘90s as frontman for Queen Sarah Saturday and, later, a member of Dillon Fence; and secondly, he married one of the richest, sweetest singing vocal foils on the planet, Sarah Lee Guthrie, of the not-too-shabby Guthrie family, and with whom he has released several must-own albums that have made the duo beloved by Americana fans. When Irion sings, he soars, period, and when the duo swap verses and harmonize, they’re not merely the latest living example of what Gram ‘n’ Emmylou taught us all those years ago—they brush the gates of heaven.

For Irion’s latest solo album, he doesn’t merely uphold the high musical and literary (did I mention that his family tree includes a granduncle named John Steinbeck?) standards he’s evidenced to date—he stakes out a permanent piece of sonic serendipity that any singer-songwriter would die to lay claim to.

This is evident on Driving Friend from the get-go, on the gently waltzing “Emily’s” where Irion, switching effortlessly between tenor tones and an upper-register, almost-falsetto, “whoo-ooo-woo…” croon, sketches indelible images of a changing South Carolina coastline that will ring true to anyone from or familiar with the region:

“Sun going down on the Intracoastal Waterway
We were Fripp Island bound
Sentry at the guard post said we had to go away
It’s a private community now
So we beat it down the road for peanuts and some cokes
Looking for a sunset for free
Came across an old boardwalk
Surrounded by the marsh
Seagulls wheeling over you and me
That old shuttered church
Sure been burned down
Spanish moss hanging all around…

Much later, in the penultimate, title, track, Irion sets in motion a gospellish reverie amid a piano/strings arrangement which, buoyed by angelic backing vocals, lends an uncommon intimacy to his lyrics:

“There’s no other place I’d rather be than right here this morn
Your arms surround me like branches sprouting from our soul
I’ve been close before, but nothing like this
Only tears produced from my eyelids
But you’ve got everything I need and more.”

In between, you’re treated to sundry gems, from the Laurel Canyon folk-pop (think: CSN meets Brian Wilson) of “Salvage the Day” and irresistible pedal steel-and-twang-powered country rocker “Once in a While,” to the stoned, Muscle Shoals-styled swamp-funk of “Cabin Fever” (here, the backing vocals once again perfectly complement the material) and a luminous ballad bearing the wholly apropos title “Angels Sing,” another tune marked by some wonderful piano-and-strings playing (it brings to mind Wildflowers-era Tom Petty). Throughout, Irion and band maintain a consistent, reassuring low-key vibe that serves as a contrasting force to underscore the cinematic richness of the lyrics. Pitching in musically are members of Dawes, Wilco and the Mother Hips, so the sonics are stamped firmly with the trademark of quality.

That twinned quality, wedded to the aforementioned Irion pipes—which at times stroke the ear canal like pure sonic velvet, nary a note out of place—create the type of musical magic so often missing from today’s indie rock and Americana artists, many of whom mistake angst for passion, or substitute lazy “got up this morning/wrote you a song” lyrics for true storytelling. Ultimately, Driving Friend simply wants to be your friend, a musical handshake and a hug from one of our most gifted songwriters. Don’t be shy, folks—return the embrace.

DOWNLOAD: Driving Friend,” “Forever Wingman,” “Cabin Fever,” “Salvage the Day

 

GIANT SAND – Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Album: Returns to Valley of Rain LP

Artist: Giant Sand

Label: Fire

Release Date: August 10, 2018

www.firerecords.com

The Upshot: “Had an accident last night on Highway 95…” Howe Gelb & Co. revisit the band’s 1985 debut in classic freewheeling Gelb fashion. Go HERE to read our new interview with Gelb, in which he discusses his thumbing through the back pages and his long, colorful career.

BY FRED MILLS

It was just three years ago when England’s Fire Records, as part of their ongoing back catalog overhaul of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, reissued G.S. debut Valley of Rain, remastering and expanding the 1985 gem (as “Beyond The Valley of Rain”) for a 30th anniversary edition. Included were extensive, fresh liner notes penned by Gelb, who duly related a conversation with his dear friend Rainer Ptacek, the late Tucson slide guitarist and songwriter with whom he’d formed Giant Sand precursor Giant Sandworms in the early ‘80s, and who would appear on many subsequent G.S. albums: “Rainer was right,” wrote Gelb, “when he said we need to make a music that won’t embarrass us ions from now (he tended to teach without really teaching).”

Prophetic—and well-taught/learned—words. Valley of Rain, whether in its original Black Sand Records/Enigma iteration or the aforementioned 2015 edition that boasts a bonus disc of outtakes and proximate live material from ’86 (the latter with Ptacek in the lineup), more than simply holds up to this day. It’s as seminal as other Amerindie titles from that period, notably the desert rock/proto-Americana and neopsychedelic/Paisley Underground scenes of the mid- and late-‘80s that included the Dream Syndicate, Green On Red, Rain Parade, Sidewinders, Zeitgeist, etc. And apparently Gelb made a similar determination in 2018 that, even after helming more than 60 albums to date, VoR was worthy of the proverbial Stetson-tip. Ergo, Returns to Valley of Rain, a track-by-track re-recording—with some notable tracklist shuffling—of the ’85 platter.

From time to time you hear of artists who gripe about this-or-that’s earlier release’s faults and how they’d love to attempt a re-do. Once in awhile they might actually go through with the threat—among the adapters, for better or less, Camel, Girlschool, Mike Oldfield, Car Seat Headrest, Suicidal Tendencies, and a slew of metal bands—but more often they simply settle for re-cutting individual songs and, of course, trotting out the “classic album done live” trope, once a mainstay of ‘70s classic rock icons but, nowadays, a staple of the touring-circuit scene. (Not to mention the bread-and-butter of tribute bands, who bank on the enduring appeal of, I dunno, Beatles/Doors/Pink Floyd and Sublime/G’n’R/Phish appeal to keep their mortgage payments up to date.)

Howe Gelb, though, has the luxury of (a) never releasing an album considered so commercially iconic that going the contemporary remake/remodel route would be a reputational risk; and, (b) having a uniquely dedicated fanbase that both knows his records and understands how being a Gelb/G.S. fan means enjoying and trusting the songwriter’s freewheeling, freeform view of his own back catalog. It’s no secret that Gelb takes a Dylan-like approach to song-selection and –rendition.

Returns to Valley of Rain, then, is a start-to-finish delight. It’s technically a re-do of the original UK cassette version of Valley of Rain, which had 11 tunes compared to the 10-song US LP. (Fire’s 2010 CD reissue added a pair of bonus tracks prior to their full-blown expansion in 2015.) And as noted above, it also toggles the track order; for example, where the original album opened with the title track followed by “Tumble and Tear,” the new one reverses the pair, effectively making the latter a kind of brusque overture/prologue that sets up the deeply anthemic groove of “Valley of Rain—with its irresistible riff, memorable melody, and honeyed harmony vocals from Annie Dolan—as a thematic focal point for the album.

RtVoR rocks its desert ass off from start to finish, whether we’re talking about the straight-up Nuggets-worthy garage of “Man of Want,” the almost-but-not-quite metal of “Black Venetian Blind,” the lumbering Old Pueblo howl that is “Barrio,” or the aforementioned “Tumble and Tear,” a Jurassic stomp which, over the years has become a genuine show-stopper (check this relatively recent live version for proof).

Produced by Gelb and Gabriel Sullivan—a musical savant in his own right who came on board with Giant Sand as guitarist a few years ago—Gabriel Sullivan, and featuring guitarist/vocalist Dolan, veteran Tucson drummer Winston Watson (who is also a Dylan band alumnus), and regular Giant Sand bassist Thoger Lund (plus, on a couple of tracks, Kid Congo Powers and original G.S. bassist Scott Garber), the album’s a must-hear for any longtime fan of the band. Intriguingly enough, it also can serve as a righteous introduction for newcomers to the Gelb oeuvre, which has been known to swerve all over the rock ‘n’ roll highway, sometimes to the discombobulation of less-discerning ears and sensibilities. This album, though, is about as straightforward as Gelb gets, and it also sounds like it was a helluva lot of fun to make. In my book, that impossible-to-quantify quality will always be a selling point.

Available on digital, CD, black vinyl, and sweet limited edition blue wax (plus, from Burger Records, limited edition cassette), and with a download code, it’s an essential addition to the G.S. collection.

DOWNLOAD: “Barrio,” “Tumble and Tear,” “Death, Dying and Channel 5,” “Valley of Rain”

JUDEE SILL – Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption

Album: Judee Sill / Heart Food / Songs of Rapture and Redemption (LPs)

Artist: Judee Sill

Label: Intervention / Run Out Groove

Release Date: July 27, 2018

www.interventionrecords.com / www.runoutgroovevinyl.com

The Upshot: Late songstress gets a welcome reintroduction via deluxe vinyl reissues of her two studio albums plus a new collection of live and rare material.

BY FRED MILLS

As is often the case with artists who have passed on, legacy begets legend. And while 1970s songstress Judee Sill’s impact during her short life was minimal before her death, at 35, of a drug overdose—she was probably better known for being the first signing to David Geffen’s Asylum Records, and for having Graham Nash produce her single ”.Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” than for any measurable commercial inroads—she would go on to inspire subsequent generations of singer-song­writers. A trifecta of new archival releases amply demonstrates why her reputation as an immaculate, gifted songstress has steadily grown over the years.

In 2004, 4 Men With Beards reissued on vinyl both her eponymous debut (1971) and Heart Food (1973), while 2003 and 2005 brought remastered CDs on Rhino Handmade and the Water Music label, respectively. Now comes archival specialist In­tervention, which has recently worked wonders with audiophile reissues of Stealers Wheel, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Everclear, and Joe Jackson, with its own vinyl take on the two records. The results are revelatory. Intervention was granted access to the original analog masters so that Grammy-winning mastering engineer Kevin Gray, of Cohearent Audio, could work his all-­analog magic. They then pressed each album on two 180-gram, 45rpm discs, and printed the original artwork on Stoughton “tip-on” gatefold sleeves.

The new Judee Sill is richly illustrative of both artist and artifact, if a bit of a period piece. It’s reminiscent in places of early Joni Mitchell, particularly in ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” a slice of mid-tempo piano pop subtly lined with chamber strings; the straightforward folk of “Crayon Angels,” with its oboe melody; and another of several evoca­tions of Jesus, the strummy “My Man on Love.” Elsewhere are some more fleshed-out compositions, orchestra­tions courtesy Don Bagley and Bob Harris; it’s in lush numbers such as “The Archetypal Man” that Gray’s fresh mastering is showcased, revealing a surround-sound depth to the tune’s almost Bach-like arrangement that I don’t hear on the 2005 CD.

For several reasons, Heart Food is the better album. It clearly benefits from Sill’s presumably being more comfortable in the studio two years on, and boasts an impressive roster of 25 “name” musicians, among them keyboardist Spooner Oldham, guitar­ist Doug Dillard, pedal-steel legend Buddy Emmons, bassist Chris Etheridge, and drummer Jim Gordon. And the complexity of Sill’s composi­tions has taken a quantum leap. For this album she also wrote the orches­trations, allowing for both a diversity of scope and an internal cohesion that suggested that she was going for more than simply getting a collection of disparate songs down on tape. Heart Food glows from the outset, its highlights including the sweet, coun­try-tinged (fiddle and steel), lyrically evocative “There’s a Rugged Road,” in which Sill indulges her familiar passion for Christian themes; the delightfully lush “The Kiss,” with an arrangement worthy of Brian Wilson; and the nine-­minute piano epic ”The Donor,” which is suite-like in structure, breathtaking, like CSN&Y singing gospel.

Gray’s remastering, too, will take your breath away. One example: Listening to ”The Donor” is like sitting in a cathedral, bathing in the enveloping voices of a choir, each piano note’s attack and decay as palpable as if you were seated on the bench beside the pianist. Ultimately, Heart Food is a timeless and deeply nourishing musical feast.

Songs of Rapture and Redemption: Rarities & Live arrives courtesy Run Out Groove, whose specialty is deluxe vinyl reissues (check my review of the Dream Syndicate’ The Complete Live at Raji’s 2LP set, which was released last year) and, in some cases, unique titles such as this one. Sides A and B are made up of live material recorded in Boston in ’71, and the seven tracks originally surfaced as bonus material on the 2003 Rhino Handmade Judee Sill; sides C and D are demos and outtakes originally included as bonus material from the two Sill CDs on Handmade. So while the material itself is not unreleased, this marks the first time it’s ever appeared on vinyl, and Run Out Groove has gone the extra mile by pressing the two LPs on swirly magenta vinyl (180-gram, natch) and housing them in a glossy-textured Stoughton sleeve—each set is individually numbered.

The live tracks are delightful, a beautifully recorded document of Sill in her to-brief prime, just the songwriter and her guitar plus, on the seven-minute “As Enchanted Sky Machines,” piano. The track “The Lamb Ran Away with the Crown” is one obvious standout, the Judee Sill number nearly aglow with passion. Among the demos, “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” is a fascinating early glimpse as a song that would go on to be, arguably, the artist’s most famous song. Equally fascinating: reading the liner notes, which are a transcribed conversation between the album’s co-producer, Pat Thomas, and the late Sill’s best friend and collaborator, Tommy Peltier, in which Peltier offers memories of the singer and observations about each track.

All in all, a must-own for any fan of Judee Sill even if they already own the Handmade CDs.

DOWNLOAD: Judee Sill & Heart Food: ”Jesus Was a Crossmaker,” “The Archetypal Man,” “There’s a Rugged Road,” “The Donor”  

 

Songs of Rapture and Redemption: “Lady-O” and “The Lamb Ran Away with the Cross” (both live), “The Desperado” (outtake), “The Pearl” (demo)

Incoming: Album from Nashville’s Sour Ops / In Hand: Promo 12″

Rockin’ two-track advance teaser for Nashville band’s upcoming full-length.

BY FRED MILLS

Self-described as “a collaborative rock & roll effort,” Nashville-based Sour Ops here serves up a righteously rockin’ slab of 12” wax, “Phonograph” b/w “Mind Like Glue” courtesy Feralette Media. On the “Phonograph” A-side, the group is paying tribute to, you guessed it, the joys of recording for, pressing up on, and listening to, vinyl. Gee, how’d they figure out BLURT might be predisposed to liking this ditty?—which, sonically speaking, is a tight-but-loose chip-off-the-ol’-Stooges/MC5-block. (Listen close, and you might also here a couple of sneaky Stones licks in there as well.)

Over on the flip, “Mind Like Glue” picks up the baton and bolts with it via a crunchy, riff-powered progression that marks the band as latterday sons of Nuggets. Which comes as no huge surprise, considering the bandmembers list Panther Burns, Snakehips, the Upstairs Party, Botswanas, and Sixty-Nine Tribe on their collective C.V. Led by guitarist Price Harrison (who also heads up the Feralette label, which has previously brought us music from Snakehips, Marshall Chapman, Boo Ray, and Palmyra Delran), Sour Ops has a full length, Family Circuit, due out in late October, and this limited edition single makes for quite a fine teaser.

 

JAKE WINSTROM – Scared Away the Song LP

Album: Scared Away the Song LP

Artist: Jake Winstrom

Label: self-released

Release Date: May 25, 2018

www.jakewnstrom.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: A gorgeous slice of Americana, rock, baroque pop, and bearing more hard-to-pin-down charms than pretty much any record released this year so far.

BY FRED MILLS

There’s something magical about the erstwhile Tenderhooks frontman’s solo effort, Scared Away the Song, something that’s hard to put one’s finger upon. Because while all the “right” pieces are in place—hooky chord progressions and leads alongside instantly memorable melodies, compelling rhythmic structures across all tempos, plenty of stylistic variety (from Americana to power pop to garagey rock to folkish ballads), emotionally resonant lyrics, and sterling production—there’s definitely a sum-greater-than-the-parts effect going on. And even after multiple spins I’m not sure if I can isolate exactly what’s so special about the LP.

You can apply all those foregoing descriptions and adjectives to pretty much any of the 10 songs here, from the jaunty, anthemic title track and the luminous, McCartneyesque “Lightning Rod,” to the country-rocking “Unglued” and the cello-powered pop of “Big Black Dog” (who is no doubt the one pictured on the sleeve—Winstrom calls his pooch a “big black pollywog” and “a mattress hog” that is, ultimately, “everybody to me,” and the love in those lines was so palpable the first time I heard them I immediately got up and went over to give my own mutt a huge hug). Pair the music with Winstrom’s expressive, sweetly androgynous vocals and you’ve got one charmer of a platter. (A gorgeous red vinyl platter, at that, fellow wax fans.) Winstrom recorded parts of the album in Nashville with Ray Kennedy and the rest in his original home base of Knoxville, where the Tenderhooks had been based. He lives in Brooklyn nowadays, but clearly, the homecoming energized him in the studio.

So perhaps it’s the album’s elusiveness that, ultimately, is the proverbial icing on the cake. A lot of the greatest records are like that, and it’s only in subsequent retrospect that their unique qualities become fully evident. What that translates to, then, is my suggestion that you take a leap of faith and just grab it. My gut feeling is that you won’t have any regrets.

DOWNLOAD: “Big Black Dog,” “Caroline, Ugh,” “Lightning Rod”

 

KLEENEX GIRL WONDER – Vana Mundi LP

Album: Vana Mundi

Artist: Kleenex Girl Wonder

Label: KGW.ME

Release Date: April 20, 2018

https://kgw.me/

The Upshot: After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.

BY FRED MILLS

The proverbial “sleeper” in every sense of the word: Graham Smith’s umpteenth release bolts out of the gate in uncompromising fashion, courtesy the brashly abrasive riff of “Practical Effects,” a slice of dissonant pop marked by his nasal vox and complementary/adversarial vocal harmonies. It sets the listener up for a potentially uneasy listening experience. And yeah, that voice is an acquired taste, the kind that almost turns sour by the time you flip the album from side A to side B—did I mention that Vana Mundi arrives on digital and sweet, delightful 180gm black vinyl?—for “The Mesomorph,” all a-focus with double-tracked and harmony-abetted vocals.

But c’mon Mr. Reviewer, you say, haven’t you given, ahem, heroes of yours who are also idiosyncratic singers, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Richard Hell, plenty of passes over the years? Correct; and as with those musical icons, Graham Smith has a hard-to-pin-down emotional and sonic quality that eventually charms one out of his or her critical tree and makes ‘em a believer. In another era, Kleenex Girl Wonder would’ve been a flagship act on New Zealand’s vaunted Flying Nun label, in all their shambling-yet-mesmerizing glory. Early Merge Records releases also come to mind, as Smith uncannily intuits how to be shouty and passionate at the same time—not a small task. After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.

Oh, and just to obliterate my entire argument about those idiosyncratic vocals: There’s a track called “Impossible Shadow” that, with its tingly indie-pop arrangement and massed vocal harmonies, clearly marks Smith as a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys acolyte. It’s a lightbulb moment, and a sonic epiphany. This dude’s a rare talent.

DOWNLOAD:  “Sounds Good,” “Impossible Shadow,” “Sunday Night Fever”

EUREKA CALIFORNIA – Roadrunners LP

Album: Roadrunners

Artist: Eureka California

Label: Happy Happy Birthday To Me

Release Date: May 04, 2018

www.hbtm.com

The Upshot: What would you say to a near-perfect amalgam of Elephant 6, Flying Nun, and classic Velvets/Feelies?

BY FRED MILLS

How the hell did I miss out on—overlook—this smokin’ Athens, Georgia, duo? Just consulting their artist page at the esteemed HHBTM label’s site yields a slew of releases, with at least two prior LP/CD releases from the label to their credit. (Their official website indicates that this new one makes a total of four albums and “a lost CD” to date. Oh, and they also used to be a 5-piece.) On the basis of this wonderfully noisy, delightfully indie-garage-poppy album—which, for all you fellow vinyl fans, can be scored (for the time being, at least), on sweet orange wax—one would have to say that there’s still something in that Athens water. Good to know the municipal powers that be haven’t removed the lysergic-o-nogens that the B-52’s, Pylon, and R.E.M. dumped in the reservoir all those years ago.

Add the Elephant 6 musical mafiosos to that list of usual suspects, because Roadrunners does have that telltale E6 lo-fi-goes-psychedelic ambiance to it. Whomping lead track “MKUltra” (now there’s a “telltale” kind of song title) careens hither and yonder via the band’s patented guitar/drums setup, a brash mashup of vintage c80 shambling pop and blazing Amerindie rock; while the thrumming “Time After Time After Time After Time”—no, it’s not a Cyndi Lauper trib—injects a distinctive Feelies/Velvets vibe to cement the Eureka California alliance with the E6 collective. And the drop-dead masterful “How Long Has This Been Going On?”—no, it’s not that played out classic rock hit—has, what with its brisk, part-jangly/part-grungy riffing, akimbo rhythms, and yearning vox, is quite possibly the best Flying Nun Records song never recorded by a Flying Nun Records combo.

This group stands a good chance of being my favorite discovery of 2018. If Check back with me in late December, but meanwhile, here’s your opportunity to make a similar discovery. If there’s any justice in the world, the talented young lady and young man here will eventually be winking slyly all the way to the bank.

DOWNLOAD: “How Long Has This Been Going On?,” “Mexican Coke,” “Time After Time After Time After Time”