theettesThe new album from Nashville based rock trio the Ettes, Do You Want Power, is somewhat gritty and a bit more poppy than their 2006 debut, which may or may not be a disappointment to their longtime fans, but they haven’t lost their knack for writing catchy tunes. The music here retains the blues, garage and punk rock mix that made that first album so memorable, and while they’ve retained their edges, they’ve also polished those edges up quite a lot this time out, adding some psychedelic and power pop touches here and there. They’ve even thrown in a couple of country inspired ballads, “Love Lies Bleeding” and “While Your Girl’s Away.” Do You Want Power is certainly their best sounding album, their most wide-ranging, and generally their most accomplished and fun set of music yet. Standout cuts: “I Can’t Be True,” “Modern Game,” “Seasons” and “No Home.”

Yo La Tengo – Popular Songs

September 13, 2009

popularsongsI suppose there’s no typical way an album from Hoboken based band Yo La Tengo sounds like at this point, even 25 years into their career. Perhaps the one question a longtime Yo La Tengo listener may ask is, “Well, are there any long songs?” And why, yes, there are, three of them, in fact, that comprise the last three tracks on the record and account for over half of the 70 minute plus total running time. The first of these long songs, “More Stars Than There Are In Heaven,” is a lovely ballad that pairs its male and female vocals with a distorted guitar line that runs through the entirety of its 9 minute plus length. The other two tracks are mostly instrumental, the final track ending the album with a nearly 16 minute acid rock guitar jam. So that’s over half the album, time-wise. What about the first 9 tracks? They’re a blend of indie, psychedelic and garage rock, with some 60’s inspired pop and lounge numbers thrown in as well. In other words, it’s similar in approach to their two recent albums, with similarly excellent results, by and large. I could have done with at least one more rocker along the lines of “Nothing To Hide,” and generally speaking, Popular Songs doesn’t quite rise to the delirious heights of 2006’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass, but it’s still good stuff. Standout cuts: “Here To Fall,” “Avalon Or Someone Very Similar,” “Nothing To Hide” and “Periodically Double Or Triple.”

jayreatardWatch Me Fall, the new album from Memphis rocker Jay Reatard, skilfully genre hops between garage rock, punk and power pop with pretty irresistible results for fans of those genres, or just plain old good rock and roll. Reatard, whose vocals often recall Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks, is equally adept with both hard driving punk numbers like the opener “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” and “Faking It” and acoustic guitar based power pop numbers like “I’m Watching You” and “Wounded.” Psychedelic garage rock tunes like “Before I Was Caught” and the terrific closer “There Is No Sun” also go a long ways in showing his versatility. Fans of Reatard’s past collection of singles will see both a continuity and a progression, the latter in particular because he’s simply becoming a better and better songwriter: He’s pretty much mastered all the genres contained on this record, and his lyrics are by turns feverish, paranoid, witty, angry and romantic. Watch Me Fall flies by in 32 minutes, but the songs will stick with you a lot longer than that. Standout cuts: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me,” “I’m Watching You,” “Wounded” and “There Is No Sun.”

furthercomplications“And if I could, I would refrigerate this moment…”

When Jarvis Cocker released his solo debut back in 2006, titled Jarvis, I found myself thinking I should be liking it more than I actually did, considering my admiration for his work with Pulp. This is definitely not the case with his second solo album, the Steve Albini produced Further Complications, which is flat out a pretty fabulous album from start to finish. It’s the sort of album that keeps finding new ways to kick your ass with every track, as Cocker runs through 60’s inspired pop, garage and punk rock, soul and even some dance numbers to boot. Much has been written about Further Complications about Cocker’s supposed “midlife crisis,” but I think it’s safe to say that to the extent that the album is about that, the midlife crisis has seldom been taken up in modern music with such ferocious wit and brutal, often cringeworthy honesty. Startlingly, it all comes to a joyous close with “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong),” which, true to its title, is a nearly nine minute disco song, on which Cocker channels a little Barry White. Further Complications is the sound of a freshly inspired Cocker reasserting himself as one of the great music makers of his generation, and you really ought to hear it. Standout cuts: “Angela,” “Leftovers,” “Slush” and “You’re In My Eyes (Discosong).”

touchdownAs a music writer, I try to avoid excessive hyperbole, unlike say, the British press, who seem to trumpet the next big thing in music every week. That said, let me say that I think the new album, Touchdown, from UK band Brakesbrakesbrakes (just Brakes outside the US) is absolutely in the running for indie pop album of the year. The 12 tracks included blow by in a whirl of all manner of rock, acid, garage, psychedelic and punk included, with some country, folk and 60’s inspired pop thrown in as well. There’s also some decidedly eccentric and often quite amusing lyrical content going on at times, too. (One example: “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man),” in which the singer pleads not to be abducted by aliens as he’s found true love on Earth). The band, made up of members of British Sea Power, Electric Soft Parade and the Tenderfoot, were pretty much on fire with indie pop inspiration with this one, and while other more weighty, “important” albums may be released this year, few will be as pleasurable to listen to as Touchdown. Standout cuts: “Two Shocks,” “Don’t Take Me To Space (Man),” “Hey Hey” and “Why Tell The Truth (When It’s Easier To Lie).”

1990s – Kicks

March 28, 2009

kicksIt’s hard to appreciate what a wild mix of stylesKicks, the second album from Scotland based band 1990s, contains until it’s all over 12 tracks and 40 minutes later. It’s part New Wave pop, part snotty punk, part 60’s inspired garage rock and pop, all served up with just the right amount of the profane and the decadent. On Kicks, 1990s often skirt the line between confidence and self-satisfaction, wit and smugness, but always stay on the right side of either. The result is smart, stylish music that’s great fun to listen to and probably even more fun to dance to. Standout cuts: “Vondelpark,” “I Don’t Even Know What That Is,” “59” and “The Box.”

thevonbondiesThe latest album from Detroit based band the Von Bondies hits the ground running with “This Is Our Perfect Crime,” a rousing number that more or less sets the pattern for the twelve tracks included here: Garage rock with a notably high gloss, more modern sounding than retro, with a distinct leaning towards a big, epic sound. The Von Bondies effectively mix male and female vocals here, which keeps things interesting, and they even trade off on some songs in a sort of call and response, as on the short but sweet “She’s Dead To Me.” For the most part, the band keeps the songs brief, most clocking under three minutes, so there’s nothing on Love Hate and Then There’s You that sticks around long enough to wear out its welcome, though some listeners may wished they had fleshed out a track or two a bit more. In general, however, this is the strongest album I’ve heard from this band yet. The energy level is pitched so high it’s hard to resist getting caught up in the music here, and all too soon, it’s all over. Fortunately, it’s a trip worth taking again. Standout cuts: “This Is Our Perfect Crime,” “Pale Bride,” “I Don’t Wanna” and “Modern Saints.”

soundtrackofourlivesAfter a nearly four year break, Swedish band the Soundtrack Of Our Lives return in pretty spectacular fashion with Communion, an double album of 24 tracks, each representing an hour of the day. I’m not sure what song equals what hour, but the record in its entirety makes for a true rock epic (and fortunately doesn’t take 24 hours to listen to, as it’s just over 90 minutes). It’s an potent, inspired and frequently majestic combination of garage, psychedelic and acoustic folk rock with a heavy Who influence that amazingly never runs out of juice. Surprisingly, the one track that I didn’t really go for, “Thrill Me,” happens to be the single, but tracks like “Babel,” “Mensa’s Marauders,” “The Ego Delusion” and “Utopia” more than make up for it. At various times during its history, people have proclaimed rock to be dead, but bands like the Soundtrack Of Our Lives and albums like Communion are proof rock can still kick a lot of booty, be it dead or alive.

“Now step aside! Check it, tight pants, woo!”

Palm Desert based band Eagles of Death Metal’s latest album, Heart On, contains a tongue in cheek, wickedly effective blend of garage rock, glam rock and funk that sometimes threatens to spill over into novelty territory but is savvy enough to never quite go down that road. It’s sexy, it rocks, and it’s got a beat and you can dance to it, and it may just convince listeners that they, too, are sexy and that they, too, rock. They also do a convincing take on psychedelic folk with “Now I’m A Fool,” which, as with a lot of songs on Heart On, has to do with the pitfalls of living in and around the Los Angeles scene. (Some of the joys are noted in other songs.) My favorite songs are contained in the first half of the album, but the band nevertheless winds things up in memorable fashion with “I’m Your Torpedo.” All in all, an solid, enjoyable release from a band unlike any other on the American scene. Standout cuts: “WannaBe in L.A.,” “High Voltage,” “Secret Plans” and “I’m Your Torpedo.”

This collection of 7″ vinyl singles from Memphis based singer/songwriter Jay Reatard is like a box of candy for garage rock and power pop fans, 13 tracks worth of non-stop indie-style goodness. His guitar and organ infused music has echoes of bands like the Buzzcocks (he often sounds a lot like Pete Shelley), the Cramps, the Plimsouls and early Elvis Costello: A punk sensibility informs his take on 60’s garage rock, which sometimes comes in lo-fi form, sometimes not. Later in the collection, he slows things down with “No Time” and “You Were Sleeping,” which recall Elliott Smith. A full length album for Matador is scheduled for early 2009, which means more garage rock good times are just around the bend. Standout cuts: “See Saw,” “Painted Shut,” “Trapped Here” and “No Time.”