Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Anna Burch - "Asking 4 a Friend"

Photo by Ambar Navarro
I usually have the "no using '4' for 'for' unless you're Prince" rule, but I'll give Anna Burch a pass on this one. Hailing from Detroit, Anna Burch's new single, "Asking 4 a Friend," will probably get her lumped into the neo-folk category, and while fans of that genre will end up liking this song, it's far from folk. Instead, the song is laid back yet still somehow quietly intense 90's infused indie rock. It reminds me of Juliana Hatfield going just a tiny bit country while fronting a Pavement that have decided to lose the adjective "quirky." Yeah, it's a pretty great song.

You can listen to "Asking 4 a Friend" below. Anna Burch's debut solo album will be out in early 2018 on Polyvinyl. For more on Anna Burch, check her out on Facebook and Twitter.

"Weird Al" Yankovic Covers Ramones

Photo via Facebook
In a case of worlds colliding for me, here's "Weird Al" Yankovic covering the Ramones' classic "Beat On the Brat." I was definitely more than a little worried that it would be an accordion heavy polka, like his covers tend to be. ("Worried" might not be the best choice of words, since I would have been just as happy with that.) However, this is a completely faithful cover of a legendary punk song, and you'd never know it was "Weird Al" if it wasn't for his distinctive voice. This version of the song will be available on Dr. Demento Covered in Punk, which features punk artists covering novelty songs and novelty artists covering punk songs. It will also feature covers by William Shatner, Colleen Green, Nobunny, Rasputina, and more!

You can listen to "Weird Al" Yankovic's version of "Beat On the Brat" below. Dr. Demento Covered in Punk will be available on January 12. You can pre-order your copy here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for November 17

We're getting toward the end of the year and, with Thanksgiving, new releases are slowing down.

Artist: GFOTY
Quick Description: Bizarre anti-pop.
Why You Should Listen: This is a necessary listen even if you end up not liking it.
Overall Thoughts: GTOFY put out an EP last year that intrigued me, and this is closer to a full length than anything else, and it's just weird. There are snippets of covers, strange songs and structures, and yet it's utterly compelling. This is definitely an artistic effort, and it might turn off more people than it turns on, but this is one that I'll be diving back in on. There's just too much going on to ignore.
Recommendation: Probably the most divisive release of the quarter.

Artist: Pete International Airport
Album: Safer With the Wolves...
Quick Description: Dandy Warhols side project with some interesting droney rock.
Why You Should Listen: We haven't had some good Dandys stuff in a while.
Overall Thoughts: Pete International Airport has been hit-or-miss with me, and this album generally reflects that. Sometimes a good listen, sometimes a little frustrating, that's kind of par for the course. As a fan, I'm fine with it, but the other album is probably a better introduction.
Recommendation: Not for everyone.

Artist: Charlotte Gainsbourg
Album: Rest
Quick Description: Latest from the musician/actress.
Why You Should Listen: Has a bit of a theatrical flair...
Overall Thoughts: ...but feels like a Charlotte Gainsbourg record, and that's probably all that matters. Some French language stuff, some poppy stuff, some interesting experiments. It's a good album, but might not work for everyone who wants something more accessible.
Recommendation: Give it a shot this week.

Artist: Tove Lo
Album: Blue Lips
Quick Description: Second half of the Lady Wood dualogy.
Why You Should Listen: Tove Lo is pulling her hardest Madonna play yet.
Overall Thoughts: It's hard not to hear this and think that it's Lady Wood castoffs, but there are enough solid pop songs here to make the effort. I liked a lot of what was happening here, but I really wanted something a little more substantial after the high-profile pop releases this year. This doesn't quite get there.
Recommendation: Good, not great.

Artist: Mavis Staples
Album: If All I Was Was Black
Quick Description: Latest collaboration with Jeff Tweedy.
Why You Should Listen: Politically tinged, and a little difficult to listen to.
Overall Thoughts: Mavis Staples isn't necessarily known for having a dark demeanor, but she definitely wants you to know she has some opinions, and she shares them in bulk on this latest album. A reflection of many opinions going around in the Trump era, there are a lot of ways to take this album outside of the obvious. From a purely musical standpoint, this isn't their best collaboration, but I also think it's not meant to be the sort of effort that showcases Staples's voice as much as her message.
Recommendation: A successful album even if it's not a pleasant listen.

Artist: Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
Album: Soul of a Woman
Quick Description: The finale for the late Jones.
Why You Should Listen: Sharon Jones was a great singer with great crossover cred.
Overall Thoughts: What struck me in listening to this is that the group finished it up on their terms. On first listen, this doesn't sound like a farewell and Sharon Jones doesn't sound like she's leaving us. This isn't Blackstar. There's a triumphant something to this that is bittersweet in that we lost Sharon Jones too soon, but this is as good a goodbye as any.
Recommendation: Listen to this.

EPs of note:

* Fujiya & Miyagi - Different Blades From the Same Pair of Scissors
* Electric Wizard - Wizard Bloody Wizard

Also out:

* Morrissey - Low in High School (not good at all)
* Bee Bee Sea - Sonic Boomerang
* Barenaked Ladies - Fake Nudes
* Talib Kweli - Radio Silence
* Paloma Faith - The Architect

Fuzzystar - "Superhero"

We've been fans of Edinburgh based Fuzzystar's debut album, Telegraphing, released just six months ago. Somehow we already have new music from Fuzzystar. "Superhero" keeps their sound of pure 90's indie rock joy going. It starts off in the shoegaze and dream pop realms, with lilting guitars swirling around monotone slacker vocals. (If you're old enough, you know that to us that is the highest of compliments.) The song doesn't really build, but at some point there is a transition to a sound reminiscent of earlier, more upbeat and poppy Built to Spill. 

You can listen to "Superhero" below. The song will be available as a single on December 1 via Satellite Sounds. For more on Fuzzystar, check out their/his website.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Live Shows: Letters to Cleo & Blake Babies, Paradise Rock Club, Boston, MA 11/16/17

In what now appears to be a November tradition, Letters to Cleo came back to their hometown of Boston for a three night stand last week. This year's trio of shows was soaked in nostalgia (the Paradise was playing a pretty generic 90's alt-rock playlist with everything from Pixies to The New Radicals represented) with the band playing one of their albums in its entirety each night. This particular night was 1993's Aurora Gory Alice. 

Blake Babies opened up the evening (and all three nights) with a rare performance. The trio of Juliana Hatfield, John Strohm, and Freda Love-Smith are a much beloved Boston institution and could have easily played their own trio of shows. Since the three are now spread out over Cambridge, Chicago, and Nashville, seeing them reform is far too rare of a treat for fans. The band played at their charmingly sloppy best, including their cover of Mission of Burma's "From Here to Burma" and a heartbreakingly glorious version of "Rain." Strohm joked that the song was their new video on MTV, hearkening back to the days when that was actually a thing. [Side note: After their set, the couple next to me declared that the singer of Blake Babies had a "Juliana Hatfield vibe," and then Googled the band, only to discover that the singer was actually Juliana Hatfield.]

Letters to Cleo started off the show with Aurora Gory Alice's first song, "Big Star." They proceeded to go with that album from start to finish, playing "Rim Shak," their loudest song by far and traditionally a set closer, third. Obviously there were no surprises in the first half of the set, but complete treats for fans with live versions of the rarely (if ever!) seen songs "From Under the Dust" and "Step Back." The band took a short break and then came back for an encore (?) of what were referred to as fan favorites. What's odd is that if you had told me that they were going to play more songs from Go! than they would from Wholesale Meats and Fish, I would have been disappointed. But during the show nostalgia took over and I didn't even notice with such classics from Go! like "Spaklegirl" and "Veda Very Shining." They did play two songs off last year's Back to Nebraska EP and, of course, their cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me."

For a band that has only played a handful of shows since reuniting last year, Letters to Cleo are an incredibly tight band, and even more polished than they were at their peak twenty or so years ago. It might be that just about all members are now session and touring musicians or producers these days. Plus, the only non-original member from their heyday is bassist Joe Klompus (Jack Drag, Orangutang) replacing Scott Riebling. Kay Hanley even got a bit nostalgic, realizing that Aurora Gory Alice was twenty four years old and that many members of the crowd had been coming to their shows since they were teenagers. Looking around the audience, so many faces looked familiar, even if you couldn't place them. It makes me wonder how many of the people I chatted with between bands at Lupo's, Salem State, TT the Bear's, Pearl Street, and more were still coming to see them two decades later. Like I said, it was a nostalgic night.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Shame - "One Rizla"

Post punk is typically the artsier, less aggressive form of punk. Nobody told Shame that. Their new song, "One Rizla," is a pretty chilled out post punk songs, with the ambient feel of dream pop and the fuzzed out bliss of shoegaze. But while that may sound like the song could drift into twee territory, it's far too snotty too be considered twee by any measure. In fact, the song builds so slowly in both speed and aggression that you won't be able to even notice it until the near scream filled ending. It's not an explosive ending, but more of a just barely controlled seething rage leaking out just enough. This song is enough to put their upcoming album into all of our Most Anticipated of 2018 lists.

You can watch the video for "One Rizla" below. Shame's debut album, Songs of Praise, will be out January 12 on Dead Oceans. You can pre-order the album here. For more on Shame, be sure to check out their website.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Eskies - "All Good Men"

Dublin's The Eskies are coming back with their second album next month, and are previewing the first single from it, "All Good Men." According to their press release, they're described as folk/rock/Yiddish/Blues, and all of that is completely true. But "All Good Men" seems to be even more than that. It has a bit of a punk attitude, and any time a band is from Dublin and combines folk and punk, they're going to get compared to The Pogues. Plus, they have an folk rock anthem quality, so there's some Frank Turner in there. All of this is wrapped up in some old swing, which reminds me of Squirrel Nut Zippers. All of these elements also come together to have just a bit of a Gogol Bordello sound. "All Good Men" takes a bunch of elements that are already a bunch of elements and combines them all into a song that somehow blends together just about perfectly.

You can watch the video for "All Good Men" below. The Eskies' second album, And Don't Spare the Horses, will be out on December 1st. For more on The Eskies, check out their website.

J Eastman and The Drunk Uncles - "On Your Dime"

It's rare that a band's name completely matches their sound. J Eastman and The Drunk Uncles sound exactly what you'd expect them to sound like. Their latest single, "On Your Dime," is a blast of loud power pop that leans very heavily on the rock side of the genre. You can just feel the haze of booze that thickens the type of venue these guys play, and the crowds they're sure to attract. For added points, they inject just the slightest country twang to the song giving it an Uncle Tupelo feel. It all feels decidedly Minnesota (where the band is from). Granted, there's not a regional "sound" to Minnesota, but there's almost a regional "feel" to the state.

You can listen to "On Your Dime" below. It will be included on their upcoming album. To be sure to stay updated on the album, check them out on Facebook and Bandcamp.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

QWAM - "Doggy Door"

Photo by Karen Sophia Colon
Brooklyn's QWAM is set to release their debut EP in January, but right now we can listen to the first single, "Doggy Door." From the frantic opening of drum stick rattling, "Doggy Door" is an energetic thrash of a song. It's definitely punk while being on the slightly more mainstream side of the genre, but without being "pop punk" in the slightest. The mainstream description might be attributed to the Pennywise style "Whoah-oh-oh" chant along chorus, even though the whole song feels more like The Gits than 90's Warped Tour style punk. Plus, they throw in a disjointed guitar solo at the end that is discordantly beautiful.

You can listen to "Doggy Door" below. QWAM's debut EP, Feed Me, will be out sometime in January. You can pre-order the EP now through Bandcamp. For more on QWAM, check them out on Facebook.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for November 10

A slow-ish week. I'll be covering the new TayTay when it finally hits streaming services, but until then...

Co-Albums of the Week:

Artist: Kindling
Album: Hush
Quick Description: Local shoegazey goodness.
Why You Should Listen: You're looking to harken back to a different time, but not the trendy stuff that's hitting today.
Overall Thoughts: Holy crap this is absolutely wonderful , droney, almost shoegazey music. A band from Easthampton, I figured I’d like them when Spotify listed Infinity Girl as a comp, but this is so much better than that. Maybe my favorite of the week at this point, the vocals are gorgeous and drenched in reverb, they’re not afraid to get aggressive, and this is a rare act that sounds like something you’ve heard before even though you know it’s fully unique.
Recommendation: Do not miss out on this at all, it’s a brilliant listen.

Artist: Fever High
Album: FHNY
Quick Description: 1980s throwbacks, but more like a time machine than an homage.
Why You Should Listen: Your leg warmers aren't the least bit dusty and worn.
Overall Thoughts: Fever High is not only channeling the 1980s on this record, but they’re outright hopping in a time machine and outright stealing from the era, and it’s amazing. I think the second or third song is outright using the Soft Cell boops, and there’s one song that is one step away from being a Bananarama cover. It’s blatant musical appropriation and I honestly loved every moment of it. It’s close to my favorite album of the week on a whole, it’s just waaaay to much fun.
Recommendation: Too good for words.

Artist: Radnor & Lee
Album: Radnor & Lee
Quick Description: Weirdest collaboration in a while.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan of either of these guys.
Overall Thoughts: Ben Lee is a name you probably know thanks to his folk rock work over the last decade. Josh Radnor is best known as Ted Mosby from How I Met Your Mother, and he’s set himself up as a sort of artist’s Zach Braff since then, with some indie film and stage work. So it’s not completely weird that a stage guy is doing an indie record with a bit of theatrical flair to it. His voice isn’t especially strong, but I might just be hearing him as his TV character more than him doing whatever this is. Still, coming in with low-ish expectations, this far, far surpassed them.
Recommendation: Better than you'd expect.

Artist: Quicksand
Album: Interiors
Quick Description: Comeback album from an early 1990s act.
Why You Should Listen: You haven't had your emo fill in a while.
Overall Thoughts: The latest in a line of post-rock/emo acts coming back around, Quicksand provides a record that sounds like it’s straight from the early 1990s scene. The nostalgia and the authenticity is there, but as someone who has traditionally been hot and cold on the entire thing, this one failed to really grab me much at all. This is not an indication that someone with a real love for this era wouldn’t find a lot to enjoy here, but just that this ultimately was not for me.
Recommendation: Give it a shot, but be wary.

Artist: Brother Roy
Album: Last Man Standing
Quick Description: Classic country rock stuff.
Why You Should Listen: This is the retro release for the week in this area.
Overall Thoughts: Brother Roy is pushing for a really interesting sort of classic aesthetic, and it mostly works. He’s got a pretty nondescript voice, allowing the tones and musicality to ultimately drive the experience on this. The songs are good, and there’s really nothing negative to say about this except that it doesn’t have anything that really gives it that great leap forward one might expect. It’s absolutely worth a listen, and if you’re into this sort of thing you might find something in it that I didn’t.
Recommendation: A good listen for a shortish week.

Artist: Plastic Flowers
Album: Absent Forever
Quick Description: Latest from the indie rock act.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoyed their last album.
Overall Thoughts: I don’t know what my expectation was here, especially since I know I heard this band in the past and the sound here surprised me. This is solid, albeit unexciting, indie rock in a good form, and that’s all well and good but doesn’t do a lot to set itself apart. This might be your cup of tea, but there are better albums to listen to first.
Recommendation: Not crucial.

Artist: Langhorne Slim
Album: Lost at Last Vol. 1
Quick Description: Latest from the acclaimed folkie.
Why You Should Listen: Langhorne Slim has built up more than enough good will.
Overall Thoughts: I still remember when I first saw Langhorne Slim however long ago, probably opening for Clem Snide. He was a whirlwind even then, and I’ve happily kept up with his work since then. This latest album is not a step back, but it is a step in what feels like a calmer direction on a whole. Back to his roots a bit, as it were. This is not going to be your favorite Langhorne Slim record, but it’s going to be something you’ll still enjoy. Just differently than how you’ve liked his other stuff.
Recommendation: A solid listen.

Artist: Yeah But No
Album: Yeah But No
Quick Description: Standard indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: A solid if unspectacular listen.
Overall Thoughts: Another indie rock act this week, I also liked this one (and arguably more than Plastic Flowers), but it suffers from a very similar situation to Plastic Flowers in that it doesn’t do a ton to set itself apart. I liked this one a little more, but it’s still not something that I would reach for first this week.
Recommendation: Maybe if you need something more.

EPs of note:

* Adia Victoria - Baby Blues
* Ingrid Michaelson - Snowfall
* Slothrust - Show Me How You Want It To Be (great covers EP!)
* Empire of the Sun - On Our Own Way
* Tennis - We Can Die Happy
* Sleigh Bells - Kid Kruschev

Also out:

* Angel Olsen - Phases (weird rarities collection)
* Dillon - Kind
* Tim Heidecker - Too Dumb for Suicide (Trump protest songs. It ain't good...)
* Shooter Jennings - Live at Billy Bob's Texas
* Husker Du - Savage Young Du
* R.E.M. - Automatic for the People (25th Anniversary Edition)