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.


Pearl Jam – Backspacer

September 26, 2009

backspacerI never thought I’d ever describe a Pearl Jam record as being fun, as I’ve variously found their albums to be serious, earnest, weighty, political or sometimes downright gloomy, but that’s just what their latest record, Backspacer is, a lot of fun. They’re back working with Brendan O’Brien, who produced their now classic debut, Ten, and the result is a straight ahead album rock album with acknowledged pop and New Wave influences. That said, their version of pop influenced rock is as distant from Nickelback or the like as you can imagine. Most of the eleven tracks rock pretty hard, keeping it short and sweet, with most of the songs clocking in around the three minute mark. Notable exceptions to this can be found at the middle and end of the album, “Just Breathe” and “The End,” respectively. “Just Breathe” is a gorgeous track that already ranks among my favorite tracks of the year, and certainly amongst the Pearl Jam songbook, and “The End” is nearly as good, and a perfect closer. Pearl Jam in a good mood, rockin’ it hard? What’s not for a Pearl Jam fan to like? Definitely recommended. Standout cuts: “Gonna See My Friend,” “The Fixer,” “Just Breathe” and “The End.”


bombaybicycleclubUK based band Bombay Bicycle Club is the sort of shape shifting band that’s been characterizing a good portion of the modern rock released so far this first decade of the 21st century. Their sound on I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose is a frequently inspired collision between late 70’s and early 80’s New Wave guitar rock (Joy Division, early Sonic Youth), some 90’s rock and pop (The Beautiful South) and freak folk (Devendra Banhart), with a bit of ska and electronica thrown in as well. If I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose doesn’t always sound cohesive, it still does have some good tunes, tracks like “Evening/Morning,” “Dust On The Ground,” “Magnet” and “What If.” Bombay Bicycle Club may not yet have their own distinctive sound, but they borrow from some good sources, and the result is an appealing, listenable debut.


generationalsconlawNew Orleans based band Generationals makes its debut with Con Law, a stylish indie pop record that plays mix and match with genres, mostly New Wave style guitar and electropop as filtered through the 60’s, and sometimes vice versa. The retro pop field is admittedly pretty populated these days, but by adding in touches like a horn section and some soulful vocals, the band creates a big, diverse sound, and are able to keep things interesting from track to track. Con Law is a fun, very summery album, and recommended for indie pop and electropop fans. Standout cuts: “Nobody Could Change Your Mind,” “When They Fight, They Fight,” “Our Time 2 Shine” and “Exterior Street Day.”



July 3, 2009

spinneretteBrody Dalle, late of the punk band the Distillers, steps into the electronic dance rock field with her band’s self-titled debut, Spinnerette. Most of the album is taken up by a fusion of industrial, electronica and punk rock, though on track 7, “Distorting A Code,” there’s a decidedly 80’s New Wave influence going on. Although Dalle and company don’t bring a lot new to the genre, the album mostly works owing to Dalle’s charismatic presence and a solid backing band (Tony Bevilacqua, Jack Irons and Alain Johannes). Distillers fans may like that the band reverts to some bluesy metal influenced rock for the last couple of tracks, “Impaler” and “A Presciption For Mankind.” It’s by no means a perfect album, but it’s worth the ride for its best tracks, “Ghetto Love,” “All Babes Are Wolves,” the current single “Baptized By Fire” and “Sex Bomb,” which strikes just the right balance between sexy and campy.


gossipmusicformenAfter a strong, fast paced first half, Music For Men, the new album from Portland based band the Gossip, slows down a lot towards the end, unfortunately putting the brakes on what is otherwise is pretty terrific dance record. Fortunately, the album follows up the concluding two disco and soul-styled ballads with an uncredited B-52’s style rocker, “Spare Me From The Mold,” which closes Music For Men on a high note. It’s not that the ballads are bad, as it’s pretty clear that lead singer Beth Ditto, who possesses one of the most distinctive and powerful voices in modern rock, could sing just about anything and make it sound compelling. It’s just the faster paced songs, which mix up New Wave, punk and disco influences almost seamlessly, are just so much better: Any band would kill to have songs as dance floor ready as the first single, “Heavy Cross,” as well as “8th Wonder” and “Pop Goes The World” and that closing number. (“Men In Love” would be included, too, were it not for a strangely uninspired chorus.) Despite some of my misgivings, I still recommend Music For Men, because when the Gossip are at the top of their game, they play dance oriented rock like they invented it, and that’s just too much good fun to miss.


thesounds_albumartworkrgbOne of the appeals of seeing a concert by Swedish band the Sounds is their determination that everyone in the audience have a great time, since they’re seeing, after all, the greatest band in the world. Super charismatic lead singer Maja Ivarsson introduces songs by saying, “Here comes another hit,” and the band plays with such passion and commitment that for the duration of the song, it’s not just a hit, it’s a super hit! For their third album, Crossing The Rubicon, they haven’t altered their formula much: It’s more of the same propulsive New Wave and punk inspired pop they’ve been doing since their 2003 debut, Living In America. They sound rather like a less serious minded the Killers, albeit with a heavy Blondie influence and a singer with a Swedish accent, though they are no less ambitious. They’re at their best with their dance rock numbers, like the opener and current single, “No One Sleeps When I’m Awake,” and later tracks like “Beatbox” and “Underground.” Their slower numbers tend towards the sentimental, as on “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” case in point, but that said, “Dorchester Hotel” and “Midnight Sun” are album highlights as well, the latter track coming in a second half that features slower numbers in general. When they’re at the top of their game, the Sounds make some pretty irresistible dance music, and Crossing The Rubicon features enough of them at the top of their game to make it a worthwhile listen for fans and people looking for unpretentious and unabashedly entertaining pop.


artbrutvssatanThere’s something sort of brilliant about the way that UK based band Art Brut, in 11 tracks and 40 minutes, is able to describe the state of the young artist in the early part of the 21st century, or, as my friend Tom might’ve put it, “the same old shit,” circa 2009. Whether lead singer Eddie Argos is celebrating/bemoaning a night of too much fun (“Alcoholics Unanimous,” “Mysterious Bruises”), trying to reconcile lowbrow tastes with a highbrow sensibility (“DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake”), singing the praises of public transportation (“The Passenger”) or the DIY aesthetic (“Slap Dash For No Cash”) or dealing with audience indifference (“Demons Out!”), Art Brut maintains enough of a distance that the songs are both sardonically funny and insightful without falling into solipsism, self-righteousness or just plain old whining. Argos still does his speak/singing thing, and the music is still snotty, brash sounding punk and New Wave inspired indie rock, and it all still sounds pogo-ready great. Standout cuts: “Alcoholics Unanimous,” “DC Comics and Chocolate Milkshake,” “What A Rush” and “Slap Dash For No Cash.”


grandduchyGrand Duchy is husband and wife Black Francis (aka Frank Black aka Charles Thompson) and Violet Clark, and Petit Fours is their debut album. It’s pretty much a winner, 9 tracks of New Wave and 80’s inspired pop, heavy on the synthesizers, with a touch of the Pixies, especially on “Black Suit,” one of the album highlights. Clark’s vocals tend to recall the Pixies as well, as she can sound a lot like Kim Deal at times, though not to the point of distraction. Clark and Black Francis trade off on lead vocal duties, with Clark doing most of the singing, though Black Francis makes his presence known on every song just the same, either through his musical influence or his very cool, distinctive guitar playing throughout. I’m not sure if Grand Duchy will turn out to be a one off project or not, but it’s yielded a pretty enjoyable album, with some great tunes. Definitely worth a listen, for fans of Black Francis/Frank Black and the Pixies, and for fans of indie pop in general. Standout cuts: “Lovesick,” “Fort Wayne,” “Black Suit” and “Ermesinde.”


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.”