theblackholliesOn the followup to their stellar record, Casting Shadows, New Jersey band the Black Hollies slow the tempo down a bit and offer up more psychedelic pop than psychedelic rock this time, but the results are generally as good. The production once again sounds like the record was made in the 60’s, though, as with Casting Shadows, the tracks are all Black Hollies originals. I do favor their faster numbers, tracks like “Run With Me Run,” “Gloomy Monday Morning” and “Look What You’ve Done,” but they also score with slower songs like the closer “Don’t Be Afraid To Ask.” The music is a dynamic, infectious mix of psychedelic rock and pop, garage rock and a little bit of soul. This is a solid third release for the Black Hollies that demonstrates their versatility while expanding their rock and pop horizons. Hopefully, this record will earn them the wider audience they deserve.

higherthanthestarsListeners who were sold on Brooklyn band The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s combination of droning fuzzy guitar/Wall of Sound rock and jangle/twee pop will find this EP, which features four new songs along some remixes, to be pretty much required listening. The songs, most of which have been staples of their live show, are as good as anything on their debut record, released earlier this year. The title track may be my favorite song by them so far, in fact, and the EP’s got a stellar remix done by none other than Saint Etienne. That song and the other highlight here, “Falling Star,” in particular have a strong 80’s feeling to them, while “103” and “Twins” owe a debt to both 80’s Jesus and Mary Chain and 90’s bands like My Bloody Valentine. I think I actually enjoy this EP better than I did the LP; at any rate, this will be a band I will be paying special attention to from now on.

creaturesqueStylistically, Creaturesque, the second album from the Seattle band led by Scott Reitherman, is often pretty amazing, leaping as it does with ease from pop genre to another. When I gave it my first listen through, it seemed less like an album by a single band and more like an anthology of pop bands, drawing on a diverse range of influences starting in the 60’s and continuing on into the present. My first thought was that this was something of a flaw, each song disconnected from the other, but on repeat listens, I started to view Creaturesque as a thing of real beauty, a collection of appealing, infectious pop music with a refreshingly adult, decidedly non-cutesy point of view. It’s indie pop with shimmering surfaces and darker, complex undercurrents. So yeah, if you like indie pop, or even if you think you may like indie pop, you should check this album out. Standout cuts: “”Waving From The Shore,” “Tag,” “Ancestors” and “Cannibal Rays,” though all tracks are worthwhile.

sthelensA band that sounds like equal parts the Velvet Underground, early Sonic Youth and the Brian Jonestown Massacre? I’m in! Australian band St Helens’ new album pulls together a number of familiar influences into something that somehow gels into a dark, seductive but still strangely fun set of music. The general feel of the album, lyrics included, is jaded and somewhat sinister, an overall mood that’s tempered by a wit that makes itself known without being overbearing. Heavy Profession is a pretty cool, confident debut, not without its flaws or missteps, particularly in its second half, but it’s certainly a record full of promise and one that offers up a lot of pleasure in the present. Standout cuts: “Don’t Laugh,” “How To Choose Your Guru Pt 2,” “Coffin Scratch” and “Get Up.”

Those Darlins

July 19, 2009

thosedarlinsWickedly entertaining self-titled debut from Tennessee based band Those Darlins (Jessi Darlin, Nikki Darlin, and Kelley Darlin), featuring twelve odes mostly to wild and dubious behavior of various sorts, frequently alcohol or lust fueled, or both, though there is a tribute to Mama thrown in as well. The songs, often done in three part harmonies, are raucous, a little dirty minded, but also immediately infectious and just plain fun. They seem a bit like the West Coast’s the Hot Toddies, except working in a country vein. And like that band, they’re impressively talented musicians with a real flair for a pop hook. Call it country, cowpunk or rockabilly, but if you’re a fan of one or all of the above, you should give Those Darlins a listen. Standout cuts: “Red Light Love,” “Wild One,” “Cannonball Blues” and “Snaggle Tooth Mama.”

greatnorthernThere are a lot of songs I really like on Los Angeles band Great Northern’s second album, Remind Me Where The Light Is, in particular the opening tracks, “Story” and “Houses,” though I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why I liked them. Then it dawned on me that this is music I would have loved in the 80’s: Big, anthemic, emotional rock, which is absolutely Great Northern’s strong suit. I hesitate to refer to this record as “indie rock,” owing to the fact that if Great Northern’s music is in any way indie, it’s only by virtue of the fact they’ve not yet swept up by a major label, despite their music having appeared on TV soundtracks and commercials. They sound like Lone Justice crossed with the Killers, with a dash of U2 by way of Coldplay. If you enjoy those bands, or Vega 4 or Embrace or the like, then I strongly suggest you try Remind Me Where The Light Is, because I think you’ll find a lot to like here. Not a lot of subtlety, but a lot of pop hooks, and some strong vocals from Rachel Stolte. Standout cuts: “Story,” “Houses,” “Fingers” and “Warning.”

samanthacrainStellar debut for Oklahoma based Samantha Crain and her band, the Midnight Shivers: Songs In The Night is charming, infectious and wonderfully confident, and features 11 songs that whiz by all too fast, all firmly in an Americana mode, with just the right mix of folk, blues and country. Crain’s vocals are reminiscent of Jolie Holland, but stylistically, her spirited music has more in common with Mary Lou Lord and Richard Thompson. Her band is first rate, and they are reportedly pretty great live (and currently on tour as of this writing). This is one of the albums I’ve played a lot so far this year, and it always puts a smile on my face. Songs In The Night should elevate Crain and her band into the top ranks of Americana and folk bands. Standout cuts: “Rising Sun,” “Songs In The Night,” “Get The Fever Out” and “Bullfight (Change Your Mind).”

romancandleSometimes you hear a great single, and the album actually fulfills the promise of that single, rather having it as its sole highlight. I listened to Chapel Hill based band Roman Candle’s first single, “Early Aubade,” from their latest LP, Oh Tall Tree In The Ear, more or less at random, and immediately had a new favorite song. It starts out forcefully then gradually falls into a reverie, or the reverse of what you ordinarily expect a rock song to do. The album followed two weeks later, and it turned out the single actually closes out the record. “Eden Was A Garden,” another great song, starts out quietly, then opens up with the same country rock force with which “Early Aubade” begins. The rest of the album is as artfully crafted, though its art is subtle and unpretentious, as are the poetic and literate undercurrents that run through the song lyrics. Listeners may immediately be reminded of Wilco when first exposed to Roman Candle’s music, but a more proper comparison would be Okkervil River, another band who has taken familiar elements of rock, Americana, folk and country and made them into music that feels vital, powerful and utterly of the moment. Every now and then, an album comes along and reminds me what I love about rock music, and right now, Roman Candle’s Oh Tall Tree In The Ear is that album. Standout cuts: “Eden Was A Garden, “Why Modern Radio Is A-OK,” “Big Light” and “Early Aubade.”

Anni Rossi – Rockwell

March 21, 2009

annirossiThe music on Chicago based Minnesota native Anni Rossi’s LP debut, Rockwell, is of the sort that drives music writers to distraction trying to fully describe it. Let me say, in admittedly simplistic fashion, that the Steve Albini-produced album is a mixture of folk and chamber pop, with a lyrical point of view, here mostly concerned with environments of various sorts, akin to Jane Siberry and early Bjork. It successfully skirts the thin line between arty and cutesy, instead achieving a strange beauty, and having toured with both the Ting Tings and Electrelane, Rossi’s music exhibits both a flair for a catchy pop melody as well as a tendency towards the elegantly experimental. Rossi’s versatile voice and her expertise with the viola are also keys to her unique sound. The ten songs included are compacted little gems, only one of which breaks the three minute mark, the current single, “Wheelpusher.” And I should also mention it’s hugely entertaining to listen to. Call it what you will, “alt-folk,” “anti-folk,” it’s good stuff. Standout cuts: “Machine,” “Ecology,” “Wheel Pusher” and “Air Is Nothing.”

Wavves – Wavvves

March 17, 2009

wavvvesI imagine a good joke to play on an audiophile friend would be to play the new album by Wavves, which has deliberate distortion throughout, and say, “Well, it plays perfectly on my system.” Wavvves is the follow up to the self-titled debut album by Wavves aka Nathan Williams, a San Diego based one man band (at least on his recordings to date) who combines surf punk with noise rock. Underneath the buzz and the drone, you’ll hear Williams’ knack for a catchy pop melody or a good guitar or synthesizer riff, the result sounding as if the Beach Boys had joined forces with Dick Dale and proceeded to drop the brown acid together. Sonically, Wavvves challenges listener notions of what good music sounds like, but the static and the noise are just another musical layer, like listening to someone’s tantalizingly good songs on a radio station left of the dial, with permanently poor reception. If Williams hadn’t put anything worthwhile for listeners to find underneath all that noise and distortion, Wavvves wouldn’t work, but he has, and the album does. Standout cuts: “Beach Demon,” “To The Dregs,” “So Bored” and “Weed Demon.”