clienteleIf you’re a dedicated fan of indie pop, odds are you already know about UK based band the Clientele, who’ve been making breathy, lushly produced pop since the turn of the century. Bonfires on the Heath represents all the qualities that have earned them their fanbase: Airy, dreamy vocals backed by rich and eclectic instrumentation, featuring strings, horn sections, organs, the occasional sitar and a healthy amount of reverb and acoustic guitar, all deeply influenced by 60’s and 70’s pop and psychedelia, styles they’ve made very much their own. For the most part, Bonfires On The Heath is about as laid back as its title may suggest, though there are couple of quick rockers, the all too brief “Sketch” and “Share The Night.” The overall mood is by turns romantic, pastoral, nostalgic, dreamlike and certainly haunting. I haven’t decided where this album ranks among the Clientele’s body of work, but that aside, it’s some pretty terrific music from a band that’s managed to carve their out own distinctive niche in modern indie pop. Standout cuts: “I Wonder Who We Are,” “Harvest Time,” “Never Anyone But You” and “Tonight.”

http://www.myspace.com/theclienteleofficial

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.

http://www.myspace.com/theblackhollies

inandoutofcontrolA cursory listen to In And Out Of Control, the new album from Danish but US based band the Raveonettes, may give the impression that the band is playing it safe and treading on familiar musical ground, but it’s in fact one of their strongest albums yet. Yes, their mix of droning, fuzzy guitars with 50’s and 60’s rock and pop is still in effect here, but it’s in the service of darker, sometimes harsher material, both lyrically and musically, as songs with titles like “Boys Who Rape (Should Be Destroyed)” and “Suicide” might indicate. “Break Up Girls!” starts with a shrillness that almost sounds like screaming, and the album in general has a more confrontational feel to it. Somehow they’ve managed to make it all sound energizing and dance floor ready for the most part, despite the overall dark tone. I wonder if this is an album some fans will feel put off by, but I liked it a lot, and definitely recommend giving it a chance. Standout cuts: “Bang!,” “Gone Forever,” “Last Dance” and “Break Up Girls!”

http://www.myspace.com/theraveonettes

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.”

http://www.myspace.com/theettes

Girls – Album

September 27, 2009

girlsalbumAlbum, the new record from San Francisco based band Girls (Christopher Owens and Chet “JR” White), didn’t exactly set me on fire the first time I heard it. I didn’t hate it, but something about the way it mixed 50’s and 60’s rock and pop styles with distinctly modern, angst ridden and sometimes profane lyrics just rubbed me the wrong way. I did like “Hellhole Ratface,” however, which starts out as a gentle Wall Of Sound influenced ballad and gradually builds into a droning guitar shoegaze influenced workout. It’s such a good song that I had to go back and listen to the album again, and I finally started to get what was bugging me about the record. The songs that influence the material on Album are frequently about complex emotions and situations that are distilled into simple, sometimes deliberately evasive lyrics. Girls, however, bring those complexities to the surface with startling and often deeply unsettling honesty, as on “Lust For Life”: “I wish I had a father / Maybe then I would’ve turned out right / But now I’m just crazy, totally mad / Yeah, I’m just crazy, I’m fucked in the head…” Of course, bands like Belle and Sebastian have made sweet sounding music laced with lyrical acid in the past, but yet the work Girls have done on Album has a unique power all its own, accomplished without a surfeit of irony or campiness. If you can listen to the album on its own terms, I think it will make for a remarkable experience. Standout cuts: “Lust For Life,” “Laura,” “Hellhole Ratface” and “Summertime.”

http://www.myspace.com/girlssanfran

postmarksmemoirsMiami based band the Postmarks follow through on the promise of their debut record, and then some, with their excellent sophomore release, Memoirs At The End Of The World. Like on the first album, the Postmarks (Tim Yehezkely, Christopher Moll and Jonathan Wilkins) find inspiration in 60’s pop by way of Burt Bacharach and the like, but expand their range of influences on this record to 60’s movie composers, most notably John Barry and his work for the James Bond films, but also composers along the lines of Michel Legrand and Francis Lai, among others. The music is by and large lush and romantic sounding, but with undercurrents of mystery, intrigue and even a bit of menace. It’s great stuff, an inspired mix of retro influences, Yehezkely’s savvy, seductive vocals and a very modern indie pop sensibility. The release of Memoirs At The End Of The World is an indie pop event of the first order, and as such, it’s highly recommended. Standout cuts: “No One Said This Would Be Easy,” “Thorn In Your Side,” “I’m In Deep” and “Go Jetsetter.”

http://www.myspace.com/thepostmarks

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.”

http://www.myspace.com/generationals

Discovery – LP

July 12, 2009

discoverylpSo you’re like me, and you have a soft spot for old school electropop with some disco tendencies, but considering how many bands are filling the world’s need for this kind of music, you may think, “Do we really need one more band like that?” Then you find a really good one and you might as well have asked, “Does the world really need one more flower?” After a most unpromising opener, “Orange Shirt,” New York City based Discovery, featuring members of Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend, won me over with tracks like “Osaka Loop Line” and especially “Carby,” easily the highlight of the album. There’s also an inventive electronic cover of the Jacksons’ “I Want You Back,” which will probably draw a number of listeners to LP by itself. The record’s sound, which sometimes recalls the Tom Tom Club, is nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s just creative and fun enough to merit a listen. Plus, can there be too many summer pop soundtracks to your life, particularly one that doesn’t stick around long enough to wear out its welcome, clocking in at just under half an hour? Well, okay, maybe, but this is pretty good just the same. Standout cuts: “Osaka Loop Line,” “Swing Tree,” “Carby” and “I Want You Back.”

http://www.myspace.com/discoverdiscovery

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:

astraband

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.

http://www.myspace.com/astrasound