Tuesday, May 5, 2015

REVIEW: Mac McCaughan - Non Believers

Mac McCaughan has been providing listeners with thrilling music for almost three decades in under several band banners -- most notably Superchunk and Portastatic -- but today's release of Non Believers marks his first album under his own name.  I don't know what factors prompted him to make this album the first, but he couldn't have chosen better.

To me, Mac has always had a punk rock heart.  But for Non Believers he works with cleaner guitar tones and synths.  He can still raise a righteous ruckus, as evidenced by the excellent "Box Batteries " (stream below), but overall the instrumental fury is dialed back, with a template that is more post punk and new wave, with echoing machine drums and subtly layered sounds.  The choice works well, as it gives more space to themes such as nostalgia, alienation, and melancholy.  His weathered voice also benefits, as his punk shouts shift well to experienced croons.  A gifted songwriter throughout his career, Mac's ten songs here may be his best and most consistent collection, bursting with warmth, sentiment and understanding.

This album should be of great interest to fans of Mac and his other projects, but in my view its worth isn't tied to the past.  I think it is an excellent album that would be welcome in the music rotation of any fan of indie rock.

In Mac, I am a believer.

Mac's Twitter
Merge Records' Facebook
Merge Records page for Non Believers
Merge Records

Monday, May 4, 2015

REVIEW: Death and Vanilla - To Where The Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are is widely known and loved, so any body of music that takes its name from that book will be judged with a critical eye.  Swedish band Death And Vanilla has created such a work with new album To Where the Wild Things Are, and it proves itself worthy of the comparison.  A thoughtfully crafted and delightfully expressive combination of vintage psychedelia, dreamy electronica, and baroque pop, it has hooks and depth, and is completely satisfying.  While there is heavy reliance on electronics, the music has a warm, shimmering feel derived from the delicacy of the arrangements and use of analogue equipment.  Nilsson's voice floats in like a apparition in the mist, whispering in the background.  The hazy vibe is amplified by the duo's choice to record using one '70s microphone purchased at a flea market.  Perhaps we could call it haunted pop from your favorite ghost, but the result is the perfect soundtrack for the literary work it honors.

We've provided a few tracks for you to evaluate - "California Owls", which for me recalls the Velvet Underground, the dreamy "Arcana", and "Time Travel", which reminds me of the Beach Boys.  This is absolutely lovely music, and one of the best ten albums I've heard so far this year.

Death and Vanilla are Maleen Nilsson and Anders Hansson, and they are from Malmo, Sweden.

To Where The Wild Things Are is out now on Fire Records.

Fire Records page for album
Fire Records

REVIEW: Skelocrats - Bella Bella

Skelocrats are a Dublin four-piece who are part of the Popical Island Collective.  They previously released two EPs (and then re-released them as a combined "greatest hits album).  The members all sing, and presumably all contribute songs reflecting their own interests and other music projects.  The result on their new album, Bella Bella, is generous 14-song set of varied pop songs.  How varied?  Well, when suggested influences include Sonny & The Sunsets, Guided By Voices, Ariel Pink, The Magnetic Fields, The Buzzcocks and The Nerves, you know you aren't going to get the same song recycled.

While covering a bit of the old map in terms of style, the songs share  a direct approach, a charmingly shaggy garage pop delivery, and a focus on melody and sunny vibes.  Kicking off with the chugging, woozy, and breathlessly energetic 80s-tinged "Zirconium Heart", and then launching into one of my favorites, "Permanent House Painter", boasting a sing along chorus, you realize that this band isn't going to sit back and plead for your love, they are going to sit on your lap, give you a kiss, and then pull you up to dance.  Then they pour sweetness over your head with "Lyin' Eyes".  Your respite is brief, however, because the next track is the hoedown flavored "Doing the Cuckoo".  The following "Laura Dolan" is a sincerely crooned pop gem.

And so it goes, with infectious pop song following infectious pop song.  Whether it offers dusty Americana ("Big Bad"), Buzzcocks style pop punk ("Tennis Aberration"), pub sing-along rock ("You Can't Be My Doggy Anymore"), or sparkling 80s indie pop ("Amazon Tribe"), this is perfect music to make you feel good on a spring day.  Yeah, Skelocrats aren't a big name, and there is no big PR machine hyping this album, but this is an album you actually will use over and over like that favorite leather jacket.  I suggest that this album is well worth your time and money.  I've included a few personal favorites below, but you can stream the entire album at the Bandcamp and Soundcloud links.

Skelocrats are P. Cooney, B. Murphy-White, and Paddy Hanna.  Bella Bella is out now via Popical Island.

Bandcamp for Bella Bella
Soundcloud for Bella Bella

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Outdoor Type - The Outdoor Type EP

Dreamy guitar pop with country accents and a vibe suggestive of sunny skies, warm breezes, blue skies and open spaces.  Yes sir, The Outdoor Type is aptly named.  The EP opens with the wide-scope "When The Sun Goes Down".  Driven by an anthemic chorus and ringing guitars and synths, it signals that the listener is going to enjoy a sweet ride.  The following "Are You Happy" is a more relaxed, but still upbeat, country-flavored song that would be the perfect soundtrack for a drive on a sunny afternoon.  "I Tell You What I See" gives the template a tasty twist, combining the country feel of the preceding track with the '80s-style chorus of the opener, all in a more brooding package.  At this point, I was thinking that no matter what else Zack drops on us for the following two songs, he still has created a successful EP.  But the young man needs no sympathy, as the fourth track,  the fast-paced jangle pop gem titled "Onions and Avocados", may be the sleeper hit on this EP.  The record closes with the beautiful dream pop lullaby, "Day To Day".

With five delightful songs, The Outdoor Type EP signals the arrival of an exciting pop artist.  Snap this one up and your life will be better.  And hope more is forthcoming.

The Outdoor Type EP is out now via Habit Music Company.  You also can find it on iTunes.

Habit Music Company
iTunes for EP

Friday, May 1, 2015

"Twisted Arrow" from Arborist

Belfast's Mark McCambridge records and performs as Arborist.  An adept songwriter of country/folk, he has created a wonderful tune in "Twisted Arrow".  And it is made even more special by the guest harmonies of Kim Deal (Pixies and The Breeders).  "Twisted Arrow" is a dark, but beautiful sounding tale, and the vocals by Mark and Kim are well-matched.  The single gets its limited edition release on May 4, but for me the song has that 'great weekend music' vibe, so I wanted to bring it to your ears today.

The other players in Arborist are Richard Hill, James Heaney, Ben McAuley, Johnny Ashe, and Luke Bannon.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

REVIEW: Sarah Mary Chadwick - 9 Classic Tracks

9 Classic Tracks by Sarah Mary Chadwick is music that is emotionally raw, guileless, devastatingly  clear-eyed and devoid of sentimental optimism, stately of pace, and utterly beautiful and captivating.  The keys, drum machines and occasional guitar remain in the background, as they should.  Because however appealing the listener finds the melodies, the star of the show is Chadwick's voice -- clear of tone, with a natural ache and an almost unnerving directness and intimacy.  And that style perfectly matches the material at hand.  Consider them love songs, perhaps, but bleak and sad love songs performed at a codeine-induced pace.  Chadwick has written that all of the songs are about specific times and people, in which case some people may owe other people some apologies (or, at the least, explanations).  Of course, Chadwick will assume that neither will be forthcoming.

 With the church-like background of warm synths, the songs unspool like words from the confessional captured by a hidden microphone.  But the unfiltered stories never feel awkward, because the songwriting is so very good, the phrasing so straightforward and willing, that even the visceral sadness takes on a sensual beauty.  This tear-streaked gem is highly recommended for your late-night listening.

A New Zealand native, Chadwick currently is based in Melbourne.  She formerly fronted the dark-themed guitar band Batrider, but 9 Classic Tracks is her second solo album.  9 Classic Tracks is out now on Melbourne label Rice Is Nice, and actually has 11 songs.  The album art presented above is from the artist's own watercolor.  I'm advised that iTunes and Spotify have replaced it with the less NSFW back cover.

Bandcamp for 2014 release
Rice Is Nice order page for album

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

REVIEW: Blue Blood - This Is The Life

If spending a year as a fly fishing guide after your band breaks up reliably produced songs such as the eleven tracks on This Is The Life, then the strategy would be well known and the various species of North American trout would be on the endangered list.  So we'll guess that fly fishing isn't a muse for every musician, but it certainly has worked for Atlanta's Hunter Morris.  After Gift Horse ceased to exist, Morris took on fishing clients and worked on the songs that comprise this album, recorded under the name Blue Blood.  With a thematic focus on learning the lessons life teaches and a rhythmic, softly psychedelic sound merged with crunchy indie rock that suggests what Syd Barrett or John Lennon may have produced if they had been raised in the American south, the album is an absolute aural delight.

While as a songwriter Morris may have been looking inward, in the hands of the band the songs bloom into fully realized and richly layered pop songs.  Certainly, the band can make a righteous ruckus.  But even when the volume is appreciable, the songs remain detailed and melodic.  The title track is one of my favorite songs of the year, but "We Could Never Be Friends" and "Helping Hands" are among the tracks that close behind.  You can stream all of the songs at the Bandcamp link, and I suggest that spending some time with this album is well worth your time.

Although Blue Blood began as a solo project, Morris recruited Hank Sullivant of MGMT and Kuroma as and instrumentalist and producer.  The project was further fleshed out in the studio with J.J. Bower,Dave Spivey, and on one track, Walker Howle.  For live performances, Blue Blood is Morris, Nick Robbins, Dave Spivey, Noel Brown and Michael Gonzalez.

This Is The Life is out now on Atlanta label This Is American Music on viny, CD or as a digital download.  Source any of those at the Bandcamp or label links, or hit up your favorite digital distributor.

Bandcamp for album
This Is American Music

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"Oh No" from Jack and Eliza

Our favorite retro-pop duo Jack and Eliza are inching closer to the release date for their debut LP, Gentle Warnings, and will be touring Europe and North America in May and June.  Here is a taste of the sweet harmonies and jangling guitars to remind you why we are paying attention: New track "Oh No".

Tour Dates and Locations:
14 - Brighton, UK - The Great Escape (London In Stereo Showcase @ Patters)
15 - Brighton, UK - The Great Escape (Spindle Showcase @ Place Pier)
16 - Brighton, UK - The Great Escape (Killing Moon Show @ Tigmus, North Laines)
19 - London, UK - The Slaughtered Lamb
22 - Manchester, UK - Dot to Dot Festival
23 - Bristol, UK - Dot to Dot Festival
24 - Nottingham, UK - Dot to Dot Festival
28 - New York, NY - Mercury Lounge
31 - Philadelphia, PA - World Cafe Live

04 - Vancouver, BC - VENUE
05 - Seattle, WA - Tractor Tavern
06 - Portland, OR - Mississippi Studios
10 - San Francisco, CA - The Independent
11 - Los Angeles, CA - Bahia Live
13 - San Diego, CA - Casbah
15 - Phoenix, AZ - The Crescent Ballroom

17 - Denver, CO - Lost Lake Lounge


Murder Shoes - Murder Shoes EP

Friday, May 1, welcomes the release of the self-titled EP from Minneapolis five-piece Murder Shoes.  Key elements are female vocals and a blend of post punk and surf noir.  Reverb and echo on top of a pulsating rhythm section provide a thick, atmospheric stew.  The two tracks below provide representative sample of the songs, with "Charlotte Manning" emphasizing the surfy licks and "Maybe You Can" showcasing the band's harder rocking side.  The following "Under the Sea" is more relaxed, and is my current favorite on the EP.  "Sea A Little Louder" is a rhythmic post punk track built on ominous instrumental lines.  "In Your Bed Or On A Train" closes the EP with a galloping rhythm, surfy guitar and soaring vocals. Throughout the proceedings, vocalist Tess Weinberg's voice swoops, pleads, snarls and seduces in a commanding and versatile fashion.  I want to hear a lot more from these guys.

Murder Shoes is Tess Weinberg (vocals/keys), Derek Van Gieson (guitar), Chris White (guitar/vocals), Elliot Manthey (drums), and Tim Heinlein (bass).

Murder Shoes EP is a digital and CD release via Land Ski Records.