Wednesday, December 17, 2014

REVIEW: The Ocean Party - Soft Focus

This is one of my favorite albums of the year.  It is music I like, but it also is music that I need from time to time.  When I need to feel content, relaxed and centered, Soft Focus takes me there.  And it does the job not because it is all sunshine and unicorns, but because it is a highly evocative record.  It captures you and takes you to a place or situation.  That could be driving down the highway, sneaking around a neighborhood at night, wondering about career choices and expectations of others, trying to work out a relationship while wondering whether you really should work out the relationship, or gaining contentment even when some things are unsettling.  But the situation need not even be one described by the songwriter.  A few chords and phrases, and the listener might paint his or her own scene at the beach or in the park.  If you dive into The Ocean Party's world, you'll find a healthy dose a of self-deprecation in the lyrics, but without too much stress and anxiety.  However, I think the real magic at play here is how the five members of the band, all of whom have written songs for the album, have taken the initial concept and lyrics, and then painted a rich and layered musical landscape.  Not solely a guitar band for this outing, their jangling aesthetic is supplemented with clarinets, saxes, horns, harmonica and synths.  In many spots the music shimmers warmly, the emotions expressed in hazy thoughts and pastel colors, underscoring the apt name given to the record.  The various instrumental touches are employed with restraint, and always add rather than distract.

Inevitably, the album will draw comparisons to fellow Aussie bands The Triffids and The Go-Betweens, as well as Real Estate, and there is an undeniable honor in such references.  But Soft Focus in not an homage to anyone.  It is too multi-dimensional, too bright and firmly in the moment.  To me, it is the sound of a young band that has take a major step in growing up and mastering their art.

The Ocean Party are Jordan Thompson, Liam Halliwell, Curtis Wakeling, Lachlan Denton and Zac Denton.  Soft Focus is available now from Jigsaw Records in the US, and Spunk Records in Australia.  You can stream the entire album at the Bandcamp link below.

Bandcamp for Album
Jigsaw Records
Spunk Records page for album

Machines in Heaven - Hindu Milk EP

Earlier this year Scottish electronic wizards Machines in Heaven released a fine album named bordersbreakdown.  But the creative juices clearly continue to flow, and the Glasgow band is sending us into the holiday season with the five-track Hindu Milk EP.  On the EP, the aptly named three-piece continues to deliver divine electronic compositions that marry accessible melodies, dance-worthy grooves and creative flourishes.  They eschew the impatient choice of going for the big statement early in the songs, but rather let the tracks build and reveal themselves in layers.  To me, it speaks of well-placed self-confidence and results in a rewarding listen.  I've provided two tracks below for your evaluation, but you can stream the entire EP here as well.

Machines in Heaven are Davey Gwynne (production/guitar/synth/vocals), Greg Hurst (production/synths), Connor Reid (production/guitar/synths).  Hindu Milk is out now via Hotgem Records, and available from most digital outlets.

Hotgem Records

Luke Saxton - Sunny Sadness

Well, we all can do only what we can do, but UK singer songwriter Luke Saxton is making some of us look more than a bit lazy.  Apparently he started writing songs at age 7, and at his current age of 19 he has 24 albums and 400 songs to his credit.  His latest record is Sunny Sadness, which also is his first official release.   An early influence on Luke's songwriting was Harry Nilsson, and his music continues to reflect the emphasis on careful songcraft and '60s pop arrangements.  With doses of sunshine and melody, and sophisticated but restrained production touches, the listener could wonder whether this is a current release or the discovery of a long lost gem.  If you are looking for some gentle music, this is one to check out.

The album is out now via Bad Paintings and Luke's local record store, the Inkwell.  So most of you without ready access to the Inkwell should hit the Bad Paintings link provided below.

Bad Paintings' order page for album

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Black Symbol Presents Handsworth Reggae Explosion Vol 1

Bristol, UK's Reggae Archive  Records, and its sister label Sugar Shack Records are committed to resurrecting great British reggae recordings of the past, as well as supporting current reggae artists.  And as we've written before, it would be an error to dismiss this material because it isn't from Jamaica.  Jamaican immigrants to the UK spawned a thriving reggae scene, and many Jamaican reggae artists performed and resided in the UK.  And the crucible of minority status and the cross pollination with rock and roll resulted in tough, tight rhythms and hard-hitting messages.

Today's featured release is Black Symbol Presents Handsworth Reggae Explosion Vol 1.  Consisting of two contributions each from five artists -- Sceptre, Black Symbol, Truth & Rights, Gerald Love, and Zephaniah -- this reissue of a rare UK classic record originally was released  only in vinyl format by Reggae Archive Records.  A second volume was released for UK's record store day, also in vinyl.  The label is preparing to release a CD containing both volumes, but also is making volume 1 available as a digital download as well as vinyl.  For reggae collectors, this is a 'must have', but anyone who appreciates the pulsing bass, dub effects and chanting vocals of roots reggae will find this a compelling listen.

Sceptre --

Black Symbol --

Truth & Rights' "Saddest Moment" --

Zephaniah --

Bandcamp for album
Reggae Archive Records

Burner + Break Me Up cassette, plus free downloads from ScotDrakula

Melbourne boasts a number of very good guitar pop bands, but ScotDrakula isn't one of those bands.  But what ScotDrakula is should demand your full attention.  My first reaction after listening to their music was "yeah, that's why I spend the time looking for new music".  This is punk/garage rock with attitude, rage, energy and noise.  And underneath it all, there are really good pop songs and some raspy soul.  So, you may jump around enough that you get a bit of beer on your shoes, but you will have a good time.  And I suspect it won't be the first time that beer touches your shoes.

ScotDrakula released the 7-track LP Burner in November 2012, and the two-track Break Me Up EP in November 2013.  Austin, Texas label Fleeting Youth Records have combined those nine tracks for a cassette release that is available today.  You can stream the album ('try before you buy') at the Bandcamp link below.  Note that the track "Stupid Everything" is a free download from Bandcamp and "Break Me Up" can be downloaded from the Soundcloud stream below.  The songs feature meaty hooks, vocals on the edge, and bass and drums appealingly high in the mix.  The band is Matt Neumann (guitar/vocals), Evianne Camille (drums/vocals), and Dove Bailey (bass/vocals), but if you didn't know that you'd guess that there were more people involved.  If you are planning a party, might some day plan a party, or just thinking of getting in the car and going for a drive, this is a release you will want (Warning: Liquid Jesus likely will cause you to exceed the speed limit; please listen responsibly).

Bandcamp for Burner + Break Me Up cassette
Soundcloud link for "Stupid Everything"
Fleeting Youth Records

Monday, December 15, 2014

Howard Eynon - So What If I'm Standing In Apricot Jam

People who pay attention to dogs fuss and fawn over the purebreds, often those from breeds recently featuring in a movie.  But as a long-time dog lover I firmly believe that the most rewarding interactions are with the shaggy, undefinable mixed breeds.  They have the personality, intelligence, emotional resources and willingness to please that earns the 'title man's best friend'.  And I suggest that sometimes music is a bit the same way.  The more rewarding listens can be the shaggy, out-of-left-field and previously overlooked recordings.  And that brings us to Howard Eynon and his So What If I'm Standing In Apricot Jam.

A UK born Australian, Eynon was an actor and musician.  His guitar playing and singing on stage prompted an invitation to go into the studio.  The result was So What If I'm Standing In Apricot Jam, his sole recorded output.  We can be completely honest with each other -- the title suggests that the music could be a bit on the oddball side.  Let me assure you, our instinct is not completely off base.  However, while the music clearly reflects the sensibilities of an artist accustomed to theatrical performances, and perhaps mind-expanding experiences, it also reflects a talented songwriter and performer that will have you drawing comparisons to Kevin Ayers, Syd Barrett, Donovan and Nick Drake.  It is a wacky but substantial and rewarding ride through Enyon's imagination, with poetry, characters and meta commentary on the proceedings.  Overall, the collection is witty and whimsical, but never slipshod.

We have included streams of several songs below for your evaluation.  I recommend all of them, but if you only have time for two, don't miss "Happy Song" or the perfect end-of-the-day tune "Now's the Time".

This album originally was released in 1974.  Earth Recordings has resurrected it and we are thrilled they did.  It is available on CD, black vinyl, and limited edition apricot colored vinyl.  Probably the best way to obtain the album is via Fire Records (link below).  By the way, in addition to his work in theatre, Eynon had small roles in Mad Max and The Man From Snowy River.  As a musical performer, he toured briefly with Hunter S. Thompson.

Earth Recordings on Facebook
Earth Recordings on Tumblr
Fire Records page for album

Springtime Carnivore - Springtime Carnivore

I'll start this post with the conclusion, the debut, self-titled album from Springtime Carnivore is one of the best pure pop albums from a female vocalist I've heard this year.  There are nostalgic shades to her pop melodies, such as hazed and fuzzed instruments.  Greta Morgan's voice, on the other hand, is bigger than life.  It has the capacity to fill large arenas and coo to the little tables in a small club.  It can belt and warble.  And most strikingly, it conveys youth, but not innocence.  At times one can hear a bit of Kate Bush, or even Lesley Gore.  But Morgan's style has a palpable playfulness that is her own.  There are some very nice ballads in the set, but in my opinion the album soars highest with the upbeat songs.  My current favorites are "Name on a Matchbook" and the delightfully '60s influenced "Collectors".

Multi-instrumentalist Greta is a veteran of bands Gold Motel and Hush Sound, but for this project is mostly her, her keyboards, Chris Faller on bass and production on a few tracks from Richard Swift.  The album is out now via Autumn Tone Records.  Springtime Carnivore is touring in February and March, and you can check out the dates and venues at the bottom of the post.

Autumn Tone

Tue. Feb. 10 - Sacramento, CA @ Harlow's
Wed. Feb. 11 - San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
Fri. Feb. 13 - Los Angeles, CA @ The Roxy Theatre
Sat. Feb. 14 - San Diego, CA @ The Casbah
Sun. Feb. 15 - Phoenix, AZ @ The Crescent Ballroom
Mon. Feb. 16 - Tucson, AZ @ Club Congress
Wed. Feb. 18 - Austin, TX @ The Parish
Thu. Feb. 19 - Dallas, TX @ Three Links
Fri. Feb. 20 - New Orleans, LA @ Gasa Gasa
Sat. Feb. 21 - Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree
Sun. Feb. 22 - Atlanta, GA @ Vinyl
Mon. Feb. 23 - Durham, NC @ The Pinhook
Tue. Feb. 24 - Washington, DC @ Black Cat
Thu. Feb. 26 - Philadelphia, PA @ Johnny Brenda's
Fri. Feb. 27 - Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sat. Feb. 28 - Hamden, CT @ The Space
Sun. Mar. 1 - Allston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
Mon. Mar. 2 - Montreal, QC @ La Sala Rossa
Tue. Mar. 3 - Toronto, ON @ Horseshoe Tavern
Thu. Mar. 5 - Ann Arbor, MI @ Blind Pig
Fri. Mar. 6 - Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
Sat. Mar. 7 - Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St Entry
Tue. Mar. 10 - Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett
Wed. Mar. 11 - Seattle, WA @ Neumos
Thu. Mar. 12 - Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
Mon. Mar. 16 - Denver, CO @ Bluebird Theater

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Persian Leaps - Drive Drive Delay

Overflowing with chunky riffs, ringing chords and sweet hooks, Drive Drive Delay form The Persian Leaps delivers is a delicious winter stew of power pop, college rock and shoegaze.  Think Teenage Fanclub with a touch of My Bloody Valentine  and doses of the band's Minneapolis brethren Husker Du and Sugar.  In my opinion, "Truth" best illustrates the band's virtues the best, but all five tracks are really good.  If you like loud, muscular power pop bound together with a bit of sweetness, this is as good as it gets.

The Persian Leaps are Drew Forsberg (founder/vocals/guitar), Brad Hendrickson (bass/vocals/guitar), and Michael McCloskey (drums/vocals).  Drive Drive Delay is out now in the US via Land Ski Records; check the Bandcamp link below.  It will be available in the UK in early 2015.

Land Ski Records

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Introducing: Blonde Tongues

Cal, Aiden, Jack and Dougal are Brisbane's Blonde Tongues.  We like them because they play jangling dream pop, just the way we like it.  We also are particularly fond of them this season, because they offering the great new tune, "Hey Good Lookin'", and two prior singles, for the every popular 'name your price'.  This is a holiday deal you shouldn't miss.


Sväva - We Have Just the Life We Want

Sväva is a very intriguing dream pop band from The Netherlands.  Bente Hout (vocals/bass), Michelle Hindriks (guitar), Olivier Copini (guitar), and Jelmer Terwal (drums), met at the Academy for Popculture in Leeuwarden, and began to work on fleshing out songs written by Hout and Hindriks while they were traveling through Scotland, England and France.  The band infuses dream pop songs with dark tones and intricate riffs, providing a fitting foundation for Hout's vocals.  With an impressive range -- an upper register that recalls Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays matched with great power -- she may be one of the more compelling vocalists in the genre.

The band has released an impressive four-track EP, We Hve Just the Life We Want, which is available on Bandcamp.  You can watch the video for the second track, "Flown", below, and stream the entire EP.


Casual Sex - A Perfect Storm / Pissing Neon

Our post punk men about Glasgow, Casual Sex, have brightened our holidays with a new two-track single, A Perfect Storm / Pissing Neon.  The first track is a polished gem, with synths and guitars combining to provide a melodic, but utterly dance-worthy, foundation for the relaxed vocals.  If you traveled in the right circles in the '80s, you might have heard something similar, but probably not as well done.  "Pissing Neon" offers a completely different vibe, with a rhythm dominated arrangement, harsh accents and urgent vocals.

The single is available now from We Can Still Picnic as a digital download and limited edition 7" vinyl.

Order page for record
We Can Still Picnic on Tumblr

Friday, December 12, 2014

Love Sport - Gol!! EP

The tendency of indie rockers to have more than one project going at a time hasn't missed Finland, and we, the listeners, are the winners.  Aki, Mikko, Petri, and Teemu, members of other Finnish bands Hopeajarvi, Lady Escape, Big Wave Riders and Black Twig, have teamed up in Love Sport.  The alert folks with the cultured ears at Helsinki's Soliti Music secured the honor releasing their debut record, the Gol!! EP.  It is an intriguing introduction, with five tracks spanning the spectrum of psychedelic guitar pop.  It begins with the tangled, swaggering blast of "Well..Shit".   Other tracks, such as "Goodbye Brains" and "Pink Rhumba", provide a dreamier track reminiscent of the first album from Avi Buffalo. Good stuff, and we hope that an album is in their future.

The Gol!! EP is available now as a digital download and, for those who collect such artifacts, cassette.

Soliti Music

Rolling Stones Friday: Dance Little Sister

We didn't realize it at the time, but The Stones 1974 album It's Only Rock 'n Roll was in some ways the end of the line. Sure, the tremendous live performances continued for 4 more decades and continue today. But the recorded output never regained the consistently stellar level of the mid '60's-early 70's.

It's Only Rock 'n Roll began a much more predictable and tepid era, far less threatening and innovative, the title track essentially conceding they'd run out of creative gas.

But The Stones are so good that even their tossed off stuff is still quite enjoyable. One such throwaway track from It's Only Rock 'n Roll that I've always enjoyed is "Dance Little Sister":

This was Mick Taylor's final album with the Stones and they were at their best in my opinion with the sort of nasty and aggressive guitar he brought the band, exhibited on "Dance Little Sister".   Though here's an excellent live version (audio only) from a club show in Toronto in 1977 with Ron Wood on guitar:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

REVIEW: Posse - Soft Opening

This is a bit embarrassing.  A friend recently asked my if I'd covered Soft Opening, the debut LP from Seattle's Posse because they are a local band and it is the sort of music I like.  I was fairly sure that I hadn't reviewed the album, but the name of the band was familiar.  So I searched the draft folders for the blog (informally referred to as the 'lazy man's wall of shame'), and discovered that I'd created a stub post for the review last spring.  Apparently, I then got busy doing other things great and small, and wrote no more about the album.  Usually, such a post sits on a wall of shame until the responsible lazy man deletes it or, if really lazy, lets it sit in draft state for years.  But I really can't do that to Posse, because Soft Opening is a fine album and you deserve reading about it and the band deserves you reading about it.

This is guitar-dominated music, which is to be expected from a three-piece consisting of two guitarists and a drummer.  The guitars are ring and jangle, with a clean sound that most recalls Real Estate, or several current Melbourne bands such as Dick Diver and The Ocean Party.  But as the album unspools you'll discover that the arrangements aren't all derived from the same template.  Depending on your preferences and listening history, you may here a bit of Pavement here, a bit of Jonathan Richman, Yo La Tengo or the Pixies there.  The guitars seem to be having a bit of a friendly discussion with each other, which reminds me of Robert Scott and Kaye Woodward of The Bats.  For that matter the vocals are straightforward and conversational as well.  It is music delivered with no drama, and little in the way of hard edges.  But the melodic textures are richly layered with plenty of shimmer and some appealing quirky diversions.

The breathtaking opener, "Interesting Thing No. 2", in which Posse does about every thing they do well in just one song, was an obvious track to pick for your evaluation.  The relaxed, sublime, shimmering slacker pop of "Shut Up" -- yes, all six and a half minutes -- is another.  In determining whether I recommend an album I typically don't pay any attention to what other people say about it.  However, because I wanted to include a third song, I wandered the internet tubes to determine whether there was an additional consensus favorite.  What I discovered is that among people that loved the album and noted a favorite, the choices included nearly every song.  That suggested two things to me.  First, it confirmed that this album is full of good songs that connect with listeners.  Second, I get to choose the song I want.

I have spilled a magnum of digital ink over the past two years championing guitar pop music as played by many bands from Australia and New Zealand, only to find that one of the best albums in that vein this year was recorded by a band in my back yard.  I could feel a bit like Dorthy being told by the good witch in Oz that what I was looking for was in front of me the whole time, but that would require introspection.  So never mind all that, just get yourself a Soft Opening.

Posse is Sacha Maxim (guitar/vocals), Paul Witmann-Todd (guitar/vocals) and Jon Salzman (drums).  The album is released via the band's own Beating A Dead Horse Records, but the easiest way for most people to buy it would be to hit the Bandcamp link below.  There was a vinyl edition, but all copies have been sold.


eagleowl - Clean the Night

eagleowl is a collective of Scottish indie musicians who are active in other well-regarded bands when not performing as eagleowl.  Bartholomew Owl (guitar/vocals) and Malcolm Benzie (violin/guitar/vocals) formed the band in Edinburgh in '05.  Clarissa Cheong (double bass/vocals) made it a trio for several years.  The current version also includes Rob St. John (organ/harmonium/vocals), Hannah Shepherd (cello) and Owen Williams (drums).  They have just released the two-track "Clean the Night" for the wiaiwya-7777777 singles club.  It is the final single in wiaiwya-7777777's singles series for 2014, and in my opinion they are closing the series with style.  The title track is haunting and atmospheric, with lean instrumentation and female-dominated vocals.  In contrast, the following "Life We Knew is a gentle, up-tempo indie pop tune with a warm vibe that invites -- and rewards -- repeated listens.  This is one of those releases that prove that singles and EPs are wonderful ways to collect music.  You can stream both tracks below, and investigate more at the following links.

By the way, the seven discs in the 2014 singles series have specially drawn art work which, when collected, provide a how-to guide to releasing your own single.  Clever and helpful -- consider it a buyer's rebate of sorts.

eagleowl on Facebook
eagleowl website
wiaiwya Records