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.

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.”

brendanbensonFor music fans who became aware of Brendan Benson only through his involvement with the Raconteurs, it may come as a surprise that My Old, Familiar Friend is in fact his third solo album. But what nice surprise for those fans, as well as long time fans, as Benson’s new record is a career high. It’s a stylish, often lushly produced (complete with strings on some tracks) collection, somewhat of a paean to 60’s and 70’s pop and soul, with some psychedelia and some muscular power pop by way of Cheap Trick added to the mix as well. Most of the album rocks, though the handful of midtempo tracks are just as good, with “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” being a particular highlight. Definitely recommended for indie rock and pop fans, power pop fans, and fans of the Raconteurs who are curious about his solo work. The latter fan base will definitely get a feel for his influence inside that band. Standout cuts: “A Whole Lot Better,” “Garbage Day,” “You Make A Fool Out Of Me” and “Poised And Ready.”

deadweatherJack White’s new band, the Dead Weather, has the good fortune of having the mighty Alison Mosshart (The Kills) as its lead singer, backed by Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs), Dean Fertita (Queens Of The Stone Age) and Mr. White himself (The White Stripes). Mosshart and her main band do a version of the bluesy-rock found on Horehound, though the music she’s done here with White and company is considerably more psychedelic at times, and sans the electronica influences. The Dead Weather have a fuller, more expansive sound in general, even dabbling in a bit of reggae on “I Cut Like A Buffalo” and some psychedelic noir on the instrumental “3 Birds.” Best of all, Horehound, with its raw, growling music, sounds like the work of a real band, not some one off done to cash in on the names of their other bands while they’re between records. Definitely recommended for blues and rock fans, and anyone looking for a good, solid rock album this summer. Standout cuts: “Hang You From The Heavens,” “Treat Me Like Your Mother,” “New Pony” and “Bone House.”

Astra – The Weirding

June 19, 2009

astraAccording to the label that’s releasing it, San Diego based band (and “New Gods Of Psychedelic Prog” and “cosmic masters”) Astra’s debut album, The Weirding, has “Guaranteed Cult Status” written all over it. All of that is known as “the hard sell,” but fortunately for Astra, The Weirding is a pretty solid debut, maybe not strong enough to elevate them to immediate rock god status, but filled with enough promise to pay them some attention. Just so you know where they’re coming from, here’s a band picture:


That’s right, direct from the early 70’s, in spirit, anyway. I can’t say I’ve ever been very fond of prog rock via its early originators, but I’m finding I don’t mind modern practitioners of it at all, and in fact, I really enjoy quite a lot of it. Part of it is owing to the fact that while a lot of the current music, Astra’s included, sounds retro, it’s in fact a kind of blending of prog, psychedelic rock and metal that didn’t quite exist at the time. Astra specializes in the long song, and really that’s where they best show off their stuff, as they are skilled at filling an epic sized space without resorting to silly melodramatics, instead replying on solid musicianship and a keen ear for complex, layered melodies. The two highlights of the record, “The Weirding” and especially “Ouroboros,” are worth the price of admission alone, and take up almost half of the album’s running time by themselves. “Beyond to Slight the Maze” is a good closer, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. Also in Astra’s favor is that they don’t take themselves so seriously that their music drifts into pretentiousness. At its core, it’s good rock and roll fun from a band that knows and respects its influences as well as its likely core fan base.

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).”

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.

First of all, let me just say that any band that has recorded a song called “Fry Bread,” as New Mexico based band Brightblack Morning Light (Rachael Hughes and Nathan Shineywater) did on their debut LP, is already on my good side. That said, their second album, Motion To Rejoin, doesn’t have any odes to Native American cuisine, but it does include music that is the auditory equivalent of taking the good acid (whatever color that is): The nine tracks have a hallucinatory quality that’s by turns beautiful and mysterious, otherworldly while at the same time utterly evocative of the American landscape. Trying to nail down what they sound like is sort of a tricky business. They are fond of the long song, so it’s tempting to label them a jam band, but a more apt description may be Mazzy Star crossed with Pink Floyd, with a healthy dose of jazz, gospel, blues and psychedelia thrown in for good measure. It’s lovingly crafted, densely layered music, with ghostly and often distorted sounding vocals hovering in the mix. The songs on Motion To Rejoin require a certain amount of patience and attention, but it’s patience and attention amply rewarded. Standout cuts: “Oppression Each,” “Another Reclaimation,” “A Rainbow Aims” and “Past A Weatherbeaten Fencepost.”

A side note: The music on Motion To Rejoin was recorded using power from four solar panels. If that isn’t being green, I don’t know what is.

Combine the Doors with the Black Keys and the Mooney Suzuki, add the occasional Nico-esque vocal, and you have something close to the sound of Southern California based duo Golden Animals (Tommy Eisner and Linda Beecroft), who make their LP debut with Free Your Mind And Win A Pony. This collection of 11 songs is straightforward and unpretentious psychedelic blues rock, gritty and briskly paced with some nifty guitar work to push it along, and best of all, as evidenced by the album title, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Though the blues rock duo arena has unexpectedly become somewhat crowded, Golden Animals have just enough going for them to distinguish themselves from the pack, and have some infectious fun doing it. Things can only go up for them from here. Standout cuts: “The Steady Roller,” “Queen Mary (The Flop),” “Try On Me” and “Darkness & Light.”

First full length album in four years from mercurial Anton Newcombe and his band with the ever shifting lineup, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is 78 minutes plus of shoegaze and psychedelic rock, with some experimental touches thrown in the mix here and there. There are acoustic guitars, electric guitar and synthesizer drones, tambourines, random noises, and vocals that are intelligible, and sometimes not, all those elements carefully assembled, and then again, sometimes not, but somehow it all hangs together, anyway. There are songs with deliberately provocative titles: “Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House),” “Who Fucking Pissed In My Well,” “We Are the Niggers of the World” (a rather nice piano instrumental that nevertheless reminded me, the title, anyway, of “Lick My Love Pump” from This Is Spinal Tap) and “Automatic Faggot for the People.” Some might find My Bloody Underground a bit on the self-indulgent side, while longtime fans might appreciate it more. I’m not sure this would be the album to start with if you’re just coming to Newcombe’s music, but I found myself caught up in it, though the ten minute droning instrumental, “Black Hole Symphony,” that closes the album is something I can’t imagine listening to again anytime soon. (It does, however, have a video, so maybe I’m just a square.) Standout cuts: “Bring Me the Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House),” “Yeah-Yeah,” “Golden – Frost” and “Monkey Powder.”

The Brian Jonestown Massacre Official Site