Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Flat Five Covers Edgar Allen Poe

We're officially two weeks away from Halloween, so it's time for bands to start releasing special Halloween songs. Chicago's The Flat Five have presented us with a version of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven," set to music. Instead of merely reading the classic poem with some moody music in the background, The Flat Five have turned it into a swinging, groovy song. This is the kind of song that would have been a huge megahit in 96-97 when retro cool was all the rage. It has the strangest vibe to it where it somehow feels like swing, beatnik, and something out of the 60's Batman show all at the same time. Odds are that this won't be the next "Monster Mash," but it's a ton of fun.

You can listen to The Flat Five's version of "The Raven" below. The single is available now via Bloodshot Records. You can get a physical copy here, or a digital version through Bandcamp. For more on The Flat Five, check out their website.

First Listen: New Releases for October 13

My time management was really, really poor this weekend from a blogging standpoint. I watched three crappy movies and an awesome one in It Follows (which has a killer soundtrack/score, by the way) instead of doing the requisite stuff for First Listen this week. Please forgive me, especially given as there's 20-something new releases out there this week.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Melkbelly - Nothing Valley: Latest entry in the female-fronted alt-rock thing, but really deserves your time. Shades of Dinosaur Jr here, easily my favorite release of the week.

William Hut and Gisli - 22: His best solo effort (duo, really) in a long time, and is the closest to classic Poor Rich Ones we’ve seen in a long time on his half. The Gisli half is gorgeous in entirely different ways, but both are worth it.

Jeffrey Martin - One Go Around: Solid roots music, lots to love here.

Stars – There is No Love in Fluorescent Light: Best Stars album in 15 years, and a return to form for a band that’s been hit-or-miss lately.

Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice: I don’t love Kurt Vile, but this album simply works from beginning to end. The two here complement each other nicely.

Beck – Colors: His best album in a long time, and one of the more enjoyable listens he’s put out at that. This is what I think of when I think of Beck, and it’s surprising he can put out something like this after being at it for so long.

WORTH SOME TIME:

Lenka – Attune: I still don’t know who she’s supposed to appeal to, but no matter – she’s good at what she does even if she’s probably not going to be your first choice popster.

Terra Lightfoot - New Mistakes: A good listen, but it can’t decide if it’s more roots or more alt-rock, and that lack of clarity dragged it down a lot for me.

Lydia Loveless - Boy Crazy and Single(s): A reissue of her first EP, which is a reminder of why we're so into her. The singles are a lot of covers, which is great.

Barr Brothers – Queens of the Breakers: Gorgeous Canadian folk, its only flaw is its overall lack of heft/impact.

Robert Plant – Carry Fire: If you liked Raising Sand, this is largely along those lines. It’s hard to separate the man from the album, though – if this were someone who wasn’t Robert Plant doing this, I bet I’d like it more.

King Khan – Murderburgers: A solo effort that sounds a lot like his non-solo efforts. This is fine.

The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild: This is a very reliable and dependable band. Nothing mind-blowing here, but I can see myself coming back to this over and over.

Wu Tang Clan – The Return: This is better than you think it will be, although not as great as you want it to be. Still, the grooves are great and the rapping solid.

St Vincent – MASSEDUCTION: I really wanted to like this more than I did on first listen. Her albums are often growers, though.

Ransom Pier – Beauty and Demise: This won’t work for everyone, but if the vocals and instrumentation work for you, it might become a near-instant favorite for you.

Dead Leaf Echo - Beyond.Desire: Reminds me of those reverb-heavy 80s indie bands. Pretty solid.

QUESTIONABLE:

Pale Honey – Devotion: Considering how good their first album was, the direction they go here ends up being disappointingly unmemorable. One of my most anticipated albums of the month, and I don’t really know what to say about it.

SKIP:

Neil Finn – Out of Silence: Neil Finn is super important on a whole, but this album generally didn’t work for me.

EPs:

Elin Ruth Sigvardsson - Fel

Caroline Spence – Secret Garden: Great to hear her music hold up in a stripped-down format.

Mountain Goats – Marsh Witch Visions: Why couldn’t his last album be more like this?

Also out:

Electric Six - How Dare You

The Front Bottoms - Going Gray

Monday, October 16, 2017

Dan Rico - "Flesh & Bone"

Based in Chicago and released on a French record label, Dan Rico's latest 7" is pure 70's power pop joy. "Flesh & Bone" is heavily influenced by T-Rex, which is always a good thing. In fact, it could pass as a long lost T-Rex outtake. It's a mid-tempo groove with swagger to spare. 

The b-side, "Gold Volvo," is another fantastic song. It's a ballad, but has an odd Prince meets Big Star feel to it. You get that hyped up Prince vibe mixed with the sweetness of a song like "Thirteen." This might sound like an odd mixture, but it's fairly perfect. There's also a digital bonus track. "Anyway You Want Me" is another ballad, this one squarely in the Cheap Trick/Big Star side of things.

You can listen to "Flesh & Bone" below. The 7" is available now via Shit In Can Records. You can get your own copy at Bandcamp. For more on Dan Rico, check him out on Facebook.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Film Review: Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story

Even though I consider myself a pretty die hard Bowie fan, I really know very little about how his music came to be. I know some of the names of his collaborators, but I don't know what they did. I always had the assumption that everything was David Bowie and he more or less defined how everything sounded.

That's why Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story was such a revelation for me. Mick Ronson wasn't with David Bowie from the very start, but as the guitarist for the Spiders from Mars, his influence was wildly important to Bowie. Every so often the film seems like it is veering towards telling the story of David Bowie, but the director avoids this and truly tells the story of Mick Ronson, only using Bowie as background and context.

It shows how Ronson helped turn Bowie into a true rock star, by bringing a heavier, more rock n roll sound into his music. Ronson arranged a lot of the strings on Bowie's music, and even though Bowie was credited as the producer of Lou Reed's Transformer, Ronson was the one who knew how to run the boards and did a good amount of the production work. Even though the Spiders from Mars only lasted 18 months, Ronson worked with Bowie on The Man Who Sold the World, Aladdin Sane, Hunky Dory, and The Jean Genie. It also shows off his post Bowie work with artists like John Mellancamp, Morrissey, Bob Dylan, and Tina Turner, up to his too early death in 1993.

Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is great for those of us who are trying to expand our knowledge of David Bowie besides what we know from just listening. It's also perfect for die hard Bowie fans who might have all the information since it's filled with amazing archival footage and pictures. Plus, it has interviews with Bowie discussing the importance of his work with Mick Ronson.

Beside Bowie: The Mick Ronson Story is available now. You can pick up a copy of the DVD or Blu-Ray here or through Amazon.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

John Davis & The Cicadas - "Contamination In the Grass"

Following up on 2013's Spare Parts, John Davis (formerly of Folk Implosion) is about to release a new album under the name John Davis & The Cicadas. This one is a concept album about "... corporate corruption in the food industry and related issues like (im)migration, mass incarceration, public health, and the stock market." Most of the songs were written back in 2010 and 2012 but were recently recorded in North Carolina where Davis now works as a public school teacher. One of the songs we can now hear, "Contamination In the Grass," is about how society disregards the soil we count on for so much of our needs. It's a moody song that is synth heavy while still feeling rootsy. Concept albums can go horribly wrong, but this one could end up being interesting based on "Contamination In the Grass" and "HFCS."

You can listen to "Contamination In the Grass" below. John Davis & The Cicadas' new album, El Pulpo, will be out October 20 on Shrimper/Revolver. It can be pre-ordered on Bandcamp. For more on John Davis, check out his website.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Mr. Lif & Brass Menazeri - "Crypt of Lost Styles"

Way back in 2011, Mr. Lif was invited to play the Seattle Folk Festival. (It might seem like an odd venue for him, but for those of us who've been following Mr. Lif for a while, it makes perfect sense. Also, how aren't more folk festivals booking hip hop artists by now?) He didn't have a backing band, so he was paired up with Brass Menazeri, San Francisco's original Balkan Brass Band. It went so well that they've all joined up for an album coming out next month.

"Crypt of Lost Styles" is virtually perfect. For decades, hip hop artists have been sampling horns, and now Mr. Lif has the energy of a live brass section behind him. It's a sound that's completely obvious in how perfect it all melds, but hasn't really been done before. It's pure old school hip hop through this glorious new prism that feels familiar even though it's completely fresh.

You can listen to "Crypt of Lost Styles" below. Mr. Lif & Brass Menazeri's album, Resilient, will be out on November 3 via Waxsimile. For more on Mr. Lif, check out his website. For Brass Menazeri, check out their Bandcamp. And let's all hope for a collaborative tour.

First Listen, Part Two: More New Releases for October 6

The rest for the week:


Artist: Cults
Album: Offering
Quick Description: Latest from the buzzy reverb rockers.
Why You Should Listen: Cults has made enough of a splash that they're worth a listen.
Overall Thoughts: Everyone knows "Go Outside," but this third album moves in a bit more of a poppy direction for them, and it works in the sense that they absolutely have hit their stride as a band, but this is a sound that hasn't quite stayed as relevant as one might expect. I feel like I'm damning this with faint praise, but this album is just good, but not essential in a busy week.
Recommendation: Perhaps a fans-only affair.


Artist: Liam Gallagher
Album: As You Were
Quick Description: Former Oasis frontman with his debut solo effort.
Why You Should Listen: You really liked Oasis.
Overall Thoughts: This is an okay album. It's not good, it's not bad. But Liam will always be compared to Noel, and we have a High Flying Birds record coming soon, and this is just unfortunate and unnecessary. It's fine, but there's better efforts out there.
Recommendation: Skip this.


Artist: Wolf Parade
Album: Cry Cry Cry
Quick Description: New album from the Canadian indie act.
Why You Should Listen: Wolf Parade has traditionally been fairly interesting.
Overall Thoughts: Every time I see a new album from Wolf Parade, I'm surprised because I forget that they didn't break up. The new album sounds somewhat like their older stuff, and that's fine, but there's not a lot that's exciting about this to point out.
Recommendation: Meh.


Artist: The Weather Station
Album: The Weather Station
Quick Description: New album from the Amaricana-tinged indie rock act.
Why You Should Listen: The Weather Station has been sneakily producing some solid listens lately.
Overall Thoughts: I'm trying to figure out why I love The Weather Station but have basically had it with The War on Drugs. There's the same sort of prog feel in a lot of ways, but the things The Weather Station are doing on this album is a great leap forward. If "Thirty" doesn't do it for you, I question the existence of your soul. This is one of the better listens of the week, and needs to be heard.
Recommendation: Give this a listen.


Artist: Yumi Zouma
Album: Willowbank
Quick Description: Latest from the retro-ish rock act.
Why You Should Listen: In a crowded field in this genre, Yumi Zouma sometimes stands out...
Overall Thoughts: ...but doesn't always on this album. There's a distinct lack of growth on this album compared to their last, and that's too bad because there's a lot to like on a whole. I still think they peaked with "Song for Zoe and Gwen," and I keep waiting to get some of that brilliance again. It's not bad, just like so much of this week, but it could be so much better.
Recommendation: Not essential this week, but might be worth some time.


Artist: Kelela
Album: Take Me Apart
Quick Description: Buzzy R&B with a unique sound.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoy acts like FKA Twigs.
Overall Thoughts: This is absolutely the most interesting listen this week in a run of good albums from Kelela. I want to love this, and I generally do, but this might be a breakthrough for her that we haven't seen yet. There's a lot in the media about this one, so if you're into a more challenging R&B record that pushes the accessibility envelope, this could be worth your time.
Recommendation: A good listen this week.


Artist: Ducktails
Album: Jersey Devil
Quick Description: Laid back indie rock from a former member of Real Estate
Why You Should Listen: We like Ducktails here and this is a good listen.
Overall Thoughts: I find Ducktails hard to describe for whatever reason. Laid back seems right, but that almost seems to give the album a tone that it isn't maybe trying to put out there. The songwriting is crisp, the songs don't take a lot of risky chances, and the result is a really solid album that may not get the due it deserves. But in a busy week, it's still deserving of your time.
Recommendation: Give this a listen.


Artist: Matt Patershuk
Album: Same as I've Ever Been
Quick Description: Traditional rootsy country.
Why You Should Listen: Nothing like it this week.
Overall Thoughts: Instead of saying a lot of the same things I say week after week on a lot of these somewhat interchangeable country records, know that Patershuk has a really good voice for it and the songwriting here is sharper than most. More listens might reveal some really good stuff here, but for a first listen it doesn't 100% stand out.
Recommendation: Worth your time for a roots listen.


Artist: Slane vs. Termanology
Album: Anti-Hero
Quick Description: Boston-area indie rap.
Why You Should Listen: This is a good blend of old and new.
Overall Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this listen on a whole, there's a lot to love here. The instrumentation feels a little hokey and dated, but the rapping is good enough to ultimately cover for a record that feels about ten years too late in all the right ways.
Recommendation: Find time for this.

EPs:

* Andrew Bird - Echolocations: River

Also out:

* The Church - man woman life death infinity
* Marilyn Manson - Heaven Upside Down

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Low Cards - "Suffer"

Rhode Island has quietly become a haven for a roots music revival. I recently stumbled across The Low Cards, yet another great Americana/roots/folk artist from RI and their new song, "Suffer." 

"Suffer" isn't the quiet, acoustic singer-songwriter side of the current neo-folk revival. It's a dirty, noisy blues based sound, like if early White Stripes lived down in a swamp and not Detroit. This isn't pretty music, but that's kind of the point. It's an amped up early rock n roll with a modern slant. Even if you cringe at the current crop of bands labelled "folk," you're going to love this song.

You can listen to "Suffer" below. To get your own digital copy, head over to The Low Cards' Bandcamp. For more on The Low Cards, check out their website

First Listen, Part One: New Releases for October 6

A busy week, so we're splitting this in two:

Album of the Week:


Artist: Alex Lahey
Album: I Love You Like a Brother
Quick Description: Debut full-length from someone who we've come to love very quickly here.
Why You Should Listen: This is the best mix of indie, alt-rock, and an older aesthetic I've heard in a while.
Overall Thoughts: Ken’s spent a lot of time raving about Lahey, and both of us had very high expectations for her debut full-length. Somehow she didn’t just meet them, she exceeded them easily. Sing-along choruses, a nice wall of sound that both hits hard and doesn’t overwhelm, an instrumental aesthetic that seems fully rooted in current times while still borrowing heavily from 80s and 90s soundscapes? There’s no flaw in this record at all, and it’s easily my favorite of the week. Unless you’re really, really anti-alt-rock, this has to get into your rotation this week, because Alex Lahey will probably end up being your favorite new musician on the block.
Recommendation: Best of the week, a best of the year candidate, and maybe your new favorite.


Artist: JD McPherson
Album: Undivided Heart and Soul
Quick Description: Latest from the rocker with a classic sound.
Why You Should Listen: His last album was great and he knows how to craft a tune.
Overall Thoughts: JD McPherson had one of my favorite songs in recent memory in “Head Over Heels.” This new album kind of leans into that song a bit, with a lot of well-structured pop rock to go along with everything. This isn’t a bad thing at all in this case, as McPherson has found a unique (to this era) sound that works for him. But if you’re looking for a little more variety, it might not be here as you might expect. This is a good listen, it’s simply surprising that it doesn’t take as many chances as one would expect.
Recommendation: Worth your time.


Artist: Ane Brun
Album: Leave Me Breathless
Quick Description: The oddest covers album of 2017.
Why You Should Listen: Ane Brun's voice is unique and has offered a number of great songs.
Overall Thoughts: A singer I’ve enjoyed for a while, this is an interesting-yet-puzzling collection of cover songs ranging from the classic to the confounding – no one is asking for a version of Mariah Carey’s “Hero” as far as I know, but if you were, there’s one here. Her voice is so unique and interesting that the takes on these songs is enough to give this a listen, but for me, this was just one of those weird curiosities rather than a really solid album.
Recommendation: Listener beware.


Artist: Best Girl Athlete
Album: Best Girl Athlete
Quick Description: Genre-hopping sophomore indie effort.
Why You Should Listen: You don't mind surprises in your indie music.
Overall Thoughts: This was an album I picked out solely due to the title of the act. Within the first song I was first impressed by the way the songs were structured, but then there was a rap break. The approach here appears to be to confound expectations whenever possible, and the result is an album that I definitely liked, but found myself questioning a lot of the choices more than really just being able to enjoy what I was hearing. This isn’t to say this is a bad album; it’s just a weird listen with a lot of strangeness seemingly baked in.
Recommendation: I’m not 100% sure it works.


Artist: Silver Torches
Album: Let It Be a Dream
Quick Description: new album from an indie folkie.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan of the more quiet side of indie music.
Overall Thoughts: This album reminds me of an old band, Fuck, that hasn’t been heard from in a very long time. Quiet, kinda weird, kinda folky, very unexpected. This album is good, but almost too unassuming, and it’s an album I put on and then it ended and I could barely remember much else except the overall tone. I’ll come back to it, but in a busy week you absolutely want to be more memorable than this.
Recommendation: Not essential in a busy week.


Artist: Kele Okereke
Album: Fatherland
Quick Description: Bloc Party lead singer with an introspective effort.
Why You Should Listen: This is not what you expect at all.
Overall Thoughts: If you asked me what direction a proper Kele Okereke solo album would go, I do not think chamber pop would make it anywhere in the top 30. But here we are, with a very introspective, gentle chamber pop record that would probably be a lot more enjoyable if the Bloc Party baggage wasn’t being towed behind it. Look at it on its own, however, and it’s an interesting album with a lot of positives going for it. The songwriting is great and the musicality behind it impressive. It’s just hard to shake where this is coming from given how long Okereke has been in the musical consciousness.
Recommendation: A weird listen that I didn't love, but didn't hate.


Artist: Dhani Harrison
Album: IN//PARALLEL
Quick Description: George Harrison's son's first proper album.
Why You Should Listen: You're a Beatles completist, or just curious.
Overall Thoughts: George Harrison’s only son doesn’t sound like what I expected him to sound like, and that might be a positive in his corner. On the other hand, when we’ve had the “famous kids” albums in recent years, like Harper Simon or Liam Finn, they’ve offered some truly memorable moments both to strike away from their heritage and to make their own names. Harrison appears to be keeping it a little closer to the chest, and that’s fine. It just might not land for everyone as a result.
Recommendation: Not great, but not bad either.


Artist: Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
Album: The Kid
Quick Description: New album from the indie electronic act.
Why You Should Listen: Smith is getting significant buzz over the last year.
Overall Thoughts: I didn't get to write about it, but I loved her last mini-album. This is definitely in a more pop(ulist) direction, and it's a little off-putting on first listen, but I was hooked by the end and simply can't wait to dive back in. This is a solid listen for anyone, but especially those who like the sort of indie electro stuff I've featured here lately.
Recommendation: Should be something on your list this week.

EPs of note:

* Mirah - Sundial
* Surf Rock is Dead - We Have No Friends

Also out:

* Pearl Jam - Let's Play Two
* The Darkness - Pinewood Smile

Monday, October 9, 2017

Live Shows: Banditos and Caroline Rose, Great Scott, Allston, MA 10/4/17

Listening to the latest album from Banditos is almost like listening to two separate bands. First you get the band led by Mary Beth Richardson which is a more bluesy, soulful band. The second is led by Stephen Pierce, and is a more fun loving, almost outlaw country band. Seeing them live last week, the divide was even more apparent, which was part of the whole charm of the live experience.

This might seem like an odd comparison, but I'm going to compare the Banditos live to Squirrel Nut Zippers live. Katherine Whelan is a far superior singer to Jimbo Mathus, and live her voice was even more incredible and mesmerizing. However, his songs were livelier and more fun, so they became the hits the crowd reacted to. The same can be said for Richardson and Pierce. Her voice is great, particularly live, but she sings mostly ballads. Pierce's voice is a fairly standard country rock twang, but his songs are just more energetic and fun. Wednesday night his collection of songs reminded me a lot of early Hank Williams III, back when he was still more country than metal. The crowd responded far more energetically to songs sung by Pierce, mainly because they're more fun and easier to move to. It took a while, but the crowd fully woke up during "Still Sober (After All These Beers)" with the majority doing some kind of dancing for that particular song. Even the current single "Fine Fine Day" elicited less of a response from the crowd, but how can you beat that title? Richardson's songs had far less energy, but she completely drew the crowd in with her vocals, especially "Healin' Slow."

As much as I meant to catch opener Caroline Rose's full set, poor planning led me to only catching her last three songs. On her album, I Will Not Be Afraid, she's a groovy Americana singer, with at least as much of a country sound as you'd expect with song titles like "Blood on Your Bootheels." Some of her songs do stray a bit more on the pop side of things, but it's still fairly roots and country based. Live she was a whole different artist. I haven't been more blindsided by an artist's live show versus their album since The Fiery Furnaces. Wednesday night she was more akin to DEVO trying to play with the slightest hint of twang. It was wildly unexpected, and made me wish I had caught her full set.