superfurryanimalsThe more I’ve listened to Dark Days/Light Years, the new release from Welsh band Super Furry Animals, the more I’ve appreciated the nutty pop brilliance that invigorates so much of the album. Over the course of an hour and twelve tracks, the band fuses acid rock, shoegaze, electronica, sunny 60’s pop and blissed out psychedelic jams into an almost improbably entertaining and addictively listenable batch of music. To paraphrase a Last FM listener, the Super Furry Animals are one of the few bands that could write a song about trams and then have it as their first single: “Let us celebrate this monumental progress / We have reduced emissions by seventy-five per cent…” Dark Days/Light Years is a great funhouse of an album, multilayered and often epic in scale, a record to get lost and found in again and again. Standout cuts: “Mt,” “Inaugural Trams,” “Cardiff In The Sun” and “The Very Best Of Neil Diamond.”

dovesThe fourth album in ten years from UK based band Doves, Kingdom Of Rust, subtly breaks some new musical ground for them, while at the same time further refining their signature blend of foot stomping rock, electronica, shoegaze and psychedelia. They also throw in some elements of 60’s choral pop and some folk, even a bit of dance and funk on “Compulsion,” which adds ever more layers to their dense, sometimes positively cavernous sound. Doves certainly haven’t forgotten how to write pop hooks in the four years since their last album, so it’s easy to get drawn into Kingdom Of Rust, as it contains some of their catchiest, most accessible material yet. The album is not without its flaws, as it has its meandering moments, but for the most part, it works. I think Doves fans will embrace the record most of all, but generally speaking, this is a solid return for a great band. Standout cuts: “Jetstream,” “Kingdom Of Rust,” “10:03” and “Compulsion.”

Gomez – A New Tide

April 1, 2009

anewtideIf there could be a perfect embodiment of what Gomez fans like about their music, it may well be their latest album, A New Tide, their sixth album since their 1998 debut. Their often brilliant and influential fusion of blues, psychedelia, explosive roots rock and electronica along with what would come to be known as freak folk is showcased fully here, rather like a greatest hits album, albeit with all new material. The eleven tracks are an ideal mix of off-kilter beauty and rough edges, the epic and the intimate, with some tracks containing all those elements at once. The material on A New Tide isn’t quite familiar enough to qualify as “Gomez product,” but it does work as a pleasing summation of a decade-plus long career, like a gift to long time fans, and an excellent case for new ones. Standout cuts: “Mix,” “Little Pieces,” “Win Park Slope” and “Airstream Driver.”

After a couple of underwhelming albums in a row, Manchester based band Oasis finally find their footing again with Dig Out Your Soul, a stunner of a record shows they’re a band still capable of making some great music. They’ve eschewed ballads for the most part, save for “I’m Outta Time,” and instead made a straight ahead rock and roll record, with the usual nods to the Beatles. They kick things off with the swaggering “Bag It Up,” one of my favorite songs here. “The Shock Of The Lightning,” comes four tracks in and sounds like classic Oasis, and it’s a solid choice for a lead off single. It’s eclipsed in quality, however, by “Falling Down,” a slow burning, ultimately soaring rocker, followed by the sitar heavy “To Be Where There’s Life,” which provides the record with one of its doses of psychedelia. I have to say it’s gratifying to hear a band that made some of my favorite music in the 90’s return to form. I can’t say Dig Your Own Soul reaches the heights of the first two Oasis albums, but it’s nevertheless a collection of songs so uniformly good for the most part that I had trouble deciding which cuts to choose as standout cuts. Oasis fans will eat this up, I think, but more casual fans will have a reason to start listening to them again. Standout cuts: “Bag It Up,” “The Shock Of The Lightning,” “Falling Down” and “To Be Where There’s Life.”

“There must be twenty-five different people living inside me all the time…”

The second album from Joseph Arthur and his band has finally arrived, following four EPs that Arthur started releasing earlier this year. The album isn’t exactly what I expected after the EPs, which wandered around quite a lot stylistically and featured some experiments with electronic music. Temporary People is a full on rock album, however, with a 60’s hippie folk and psychedelic aesthetic fully updated by Arthur and his fellow musicians for the new century. Longtime Arthur fans looking for songs like “In The Sun” or “Honey And The Moon” might be disappointed, but if you’ve been following his career of late, you’ll know Arthur’s been rocking out for awhile now, though on this record, it feels like he’s on surer ground. The music sounds more tightly focused and less experimental and improvisational in general than it was on his last LP, Let’s Just Be. (Some might say less self-indulgent, too, though for the record, I did like the last album.) Instead of songs that turn into 20 minute jams, a more economical approach to songwriting has been applied here, though Arthur and his band still make room for some sweet guitar jams, as evidenced on the title track. This is Arthur’s most satisfying album in years, the capstone on a remarkably creative year for a great singer/songwriter. Standout cuts: “Temporary People,” “Faith,” “Sunrise Dolls” and “Turn You On.”

kelleystoltzCircular Sounds, the fourth album from San Francisco based artist Kelley Stoltz, finds him partying like it’s 1969 (or so). As with his other albums, it’s mostly a one man show, with Stoltz playing the vast majority of the instruments himself. That said, Circular Sounds has a pretty full sound, with nothing much suggesting the low fi home recording style for which Stoltz has been known. The reference points for the music seem pretty clear, the Byrds, the Beatles, the Kinks and the Beach Boys among them, but Stoltz still manages to put his personal stamp on the genres that influence his songs. It’s actually a pretty delightful album, with a nice mix of psychedelic pop and garage rock material, and other points between. Standout cuts: “Tintinnabulation,” “Gardenia,” “When You Forget” and “Your Reverie.”

bodiesofwaterearswillpopI must be a sucker for bands with a big, overwhelming sound, because when the chorus of voices kicked in on the opening track of Los Angeles based band Bodies of Water’s debut album, I was hooked. By the third track, the epic length “It Moves,” I was totally sold on this band’s combination of gospel, folk, psychedelia, indie rock and choral arrangements along the lines of bands like Association and the Fifth Dimension, as well as contemporary peers like the Polyphonic Spree and the Arcade Fire. The music here is inspired and passionate stuff, and wrestles with mostly religious themes with all the attendant joy, confusion, doubt, and ecstastic release involved therein. I liked it a lot, clearly, and it’s definitely worth checking out. Standout cuts: “It Moves,” “I Guess I’ll Forget the Sound, I Guess, I Guess,” “Doves Circled The Sky” and “Here Comes My Hand.”

Los Angeles based band Dengue Fever’s third album, Venus On Earth, mixes 1960’s Cambodian rock with some psychedelia, surf music, jazz, and a lot of lounge a la Esquivel. There’s also a really cool Farfisa organ humming through most of the tracks, all of it combined making for an intoxicating, sometimes a bit hallucinatory but always pleasing sound, with vocals by lead singer Chhom Nimol mostly in her native Khmer. (On a couple of songs, i.e. “Tiger Phone Card” and “Sober Driver,” she trades vocals with guitarist Zac Holtzman.) I’m not sure what exactly to call Dengue Fever’s music, as there doesn’t seem to be a catch all term, but it’s exotic, danceable fun and anything but run of the mill rock and roll. Standout cuts: “Seeing Hands,” “Tiger Phone Card,” “Laugh Track” and “Mr. Orange.”