Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tanya Donelly Covers Elliott Smith

Photo via Facebook
As part of the upcoming Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliott Smith, American Laundromat Records is letting us check out Tanya Donelly's cover of "Between the Bars." Having Tanya Donelly (Belly, The Breeders, Throwing Muses) take on any of Elliott Smith's songs is like a dream come true to me. Her version of "Between the Bars" stays perfectly true to the original, except even though there is barely any instrumentation on her version, the original just comes across as even more heartbreakingly sparse. I'm not sure if it's something in the production, or it's just the magic of Elliott Smith. It's a beautiful tribute, perfect for fans of Tanya or Elliott, or just anyone with a soul.

You can listen to Tanya Donelly's cover of "Between the Bars" below. Say Yes! A Tribute to Elliott Smith will be out on October 14 via American Laundromat Records. It will also feature covers by Amanda Palmer, J Mascis, Juliana Hatfield, Yuck, Lou Barlow, and more. You can find more information here. For more on Tanya Donelly's goings on, check out her website.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

First Listen: New Releases for September 23

An interesting release week this week:

Album of the Week:

Artist: Beach Slang
Album: A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings
Quick Description: Does what it says on the tin.
Why You Should Listen: You didn't know you wanted to hear this until you got the chance.
Overall Thoughts: This had some buzz around it coming in, and I didn't really expect this sort of garagey punk to resonate, but here we are. I can't say there's a ton specifically to point to in this regard, but as a cohesive whole, this was a fast-paced jolt of energy that was definitely the best listen of the week for me. Won't be for everyone, but you should give it a listen.
Recommendation: The best of the week by far.

Artist: Warpaint
Album: Heads Up
Quick Description: Latest album from the buzzworthy indie act.
Why You Should Listen: Their previous album was a revelation in a lot of ways...
Overall Thoughts: ...even if this one misses the mark. It's not bad, but it's so underwhelming given the quality of their self-titled album. There's just nothing here that impresses in a significant way, and that means that there's nothing that stands out. If you like electronic-tinged indie, you might like this a lot more than I did (and this might be more of a grower, to be fair), but I expected this to jump out at me and it just didn't.
Recommendation: Be wary. Might not work for you.

Artist: Billy Bragg and Joe Henry
Album: Shine a Light: Field Recordings from the Great American Railroad
Quick Description: High quality folk music.
Why You Should Listen: Billy Bragg should be an automatic for you by now.
Overall Thoughts: This is a pleasant traditional stark listen, which is perfect for the purpose behind this project. The album is simply a great listen with a lot of traditional songs (their version of "Railroad Bill" in particular is a highlight), and the overall result is just solid. Not much else to say except to give this the listen it deserves.
Recommendation: A must-hear this week.

Artist: Skylar Gray
Album: Natural Causes
Quick Description: Jarring dark pop from the singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: You're really a fan of her previous work.
Overall Thoughts: I really only checked this out because of my curiosity regarding her artistic transformation, and I can't say I have a lot of positive things to say about this release. I like a lot of the darker pop efforts we're hearing as of late, but this album feels extremely produced and sanitized in a lot of ways. Throw in an Eminem verse early on and the whole thing feels overly convoluted.
Recommendation: Skip this one.

Artist: LVL UP
Album: Return to Love
Quick Description: Solid, grunge-style indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: Feels a lot like the indie rock of last decade.
Overall Thoughts: I wish it was louder. That's my only real complaint about this album, an album that harkens back to a lot of the best grunge-worthy indie rock records of the past. There's lots of distortion, lots of droney melody, and just a lot to love from start to finish. Absolutely worth the nostalgia trip.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.

Artist: Slaine
Album: Slaine is Dead
Quick Description: Indie rap from Boston.
Why You Should Listen: Sometimes indie/underground rap is exactly what you need.
Overall Thoughts: I want to highlight this less because it's good (because it is), but also because it's well-produced and has a lot going for it for who is known, to me at least, solely as a local artist. I can't compare it to much else (since my knowledge of non-mainstream rap begins and ends at Doomtree), but readers here who enjoy the hip hop owe it to themselves to give this a shot.
Recommendation: Worth it for the right audience.

Artist: Flock of Dimes
Album: If You See Me, Say Yes
Quick Description: Complex alternative synthy rock music.
Why You Should Listen: Flock of Dimes is like a more mainstream School of Seven Bells.
Overall Thoughts: Basically a Wye Oak side project, Flock of Dimes feels very mainstream and polished while still staying firmly outside of the well-trod path. I think the song "Ida Glow" solidified this for me this week, as it has the 80s synth beat going right alongside a crooked melody that wedges itself into your brain and won't come back out. Of all the albums from this week, this is the one I'm most excited to get back to, so I think that ultimately says a lot.
Recommendation: Not for every listener, but might be your favorite if it works for you.

Artist: Merchandise
Album: A Corpse Wired for Sound
Quick Description: Darkish rock music with an 80s tone to it.
Why You Should Listen: If you listen to the opening track, you'll know why.
Overall Thoughts: My one complaint about this album is that it's ultimately forgettable. I get the vibe Merchandise is going for, and this is a vibe that many people might love, but it was fleeting for me. Songs like "Flower for Sex" definitely have some resonance, but then you get songs like "End of the Week" that try to be a little different and end up sounding like a thousand songs you've heard before. Not a lot of bands are doing this right now, to Merchandise's credit, but I'd like to see them do something more to stand out.
Recommendation: If you like the darker stuff, give this a shot.

Also out this week:

* Devendra Banhart - Ape in Pink Marble (nice, but I don't really get Banhart)
* Marisa Nadler - Bury Your Name (another solid EP release)
* Lee "Scratch" Perry - Must Be Free (this is not good)
* Skinny Girl Diet - Heavy Flow
* The Sword - Low Country

Monday, September 26, 2016

Walter Sickert Covers Nirvana

Photo by Ken Sears
This is a slightly older cover, but we love cover songs at If It's Too Loud..., and this is Walter Sickert after all, so... 

Originally recorded and posted back in 2014 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death, with this past weekend marking the 25th anniversary of the release of Nevermind (we're so old...), Walter Sickert's cover of Nirvana's "Something In the Way" has resurfaced on the band's various social media accounts. It's a haunting cover, but it is Walter Sickert covering a song that's already pretty haunting on its own. Sickert's version stays completely true to the original, and it's the best kind of tribute possible. 

For more information on Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys (and with Halloween coming up and a recently released album, now is a great time to start following them) check them out on Facebook.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Forgotten Fridays - Cherry 2000 - Taint

Forgotten Fridays is an occasional feature here at If It’s Too Loud... where we go back and find the lost records of our glory days. We played these on our college radio shows, put them on countless mix tapes, and then forgot they existed. Once a week we go back and remind you, and help decide if they were any good.

Cherry 2000 were this unbelievably great Boston band that only lasted maybe three years in the late 90s, and somehow just seem to have faded away from memory. Led by Dave Steele (also of Orangutang) and Leah Blesoff, the two traded off vocal duties through the band's 1998 debut, and only, album Taint. That and the loud/quiet/loud dynamic gives immediate comparisons to the Pixies, but the band also draws heavily from Sonic Youth, especially by closing out the album with the nearly 20 minute drone and art fest "Lungfish." There are also strong influences from metal and grunge, making it one of the more aggressive albums to come out of the Boston alternative scene in at the time.

The album bounces around between sounds quite a bit, to its credit. The first real song on the album, "Rodeo Clown," is really melodic and feels like an intended single. It's an artsier version of a lot of alternative power pop bands around that time. It immediately goes into "Purified," which is the best example of their loud/quiet/loud dynamic, like a pogo frenzied Pixies song. I think I played "Blood Red" on my radio show every week for about three months straight. It's a drone happy song, with Steele and Blesoff sharing vocal duties and one of the hookiest guitar riffs you'll ever hear.

Taint is available for purchase on Amazon in both digital and CD format. 18 years later, it's still worth listening to. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Martyrs - The Great Disturbance

In the age of social media and the internet, it's basically a given that every band will have some form of online presence. Maybe they don't have their very own website, but at the very least they'll have a Facebook or a Bandcamp or a Tumblr, etc. That brings us to Boston's Martyrs. I first wrote about them back in 2014 when they released their debut album. All I knew about them at that point was that Tee Jay from Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys was in the band, but now that he's moved away from the area, I don't even know that. Somehow I know less about a band after being aware of them for two years.

Back on September 8, Martyrs released their second album, The Great Disturbance. This one appears to only be available on YouTube. It somehow manages to cram every single side genre of punk into one sound. It is as heavy as hardcore, but as melodic as emo. (I know a MILLION bands have that in their description, but I really, really mean it here...) There's a thrashy element to it, it's dirty gutter punk, and somehow still sounds polished. I have no idea how they pull it off, but they do.

You can listen to The Great Disturbance below. As far as any other information on Martyrs... I don't know? Word of mouth, maybe?

Drive-By Truckers - "Filthy and Fried"

Photo by Danny Clinch
Next week marks the release of the new Drive-By Truckers' album, American Band. The band has released the lyric video for a third song on the album, "Filthy and Fried." Far less political than the previous two songs we've heard from the album ("Surrender Under Protest" and "What It Means"), "Filthy and Fried" and a Mike Cooley sung song more along the lines of your traditional Drive-By Truckers song. What's most interesting about the song is that it sonically follows a verse-chorus-verse format, but lyrically it just goes in it's own direction with only the final line repeated. The only politics it touches on is the right of a woman to go out looking for a sexual conquest the way men always have been able to (which is for some reason a political issue in this country). Maybe it's the organ, but the "chorus" almost has a gospel feel to it. It also includes what is quite possibly one of my favorite Cooley penned line: "Everyone claims that the times are a changing as theirs pass them by."

American Band, the Drive-By Truckers' latest album, will be out September 30 on ATO Records. You can listen to "Filthy and Fried" below. For more information, check out the band's website, and you can pre-order the album on iTunes

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

First Listen: New Releases for September 16

A relatively slow week.

Album of the Week:

Artist: Deap Vally
Album: Femejism
Quick Description: Second album from the bass-heavy indie rock act.
Why You Should Listen: Deap Vally hasn't lost a step from their awesome debut.
Overall Thoughts: The worst thing about this album is its cringeworthy title, which might turn off listeners who would otherwise be really into this sort of proto-Dead Weather/DFA1979-sounding group. There had been some early singles that showed promise, but the whole thing is just a great follow-up to their debut album. Lead track (and lead single) "Royal Jelly" sets the tone for a great listen, and arguably the best of the week.
Recommendation: Absolutely worth a listen this week, a highlight.

Artist: Dawes
Album: We're All Gonna Die
Quick Description: Latest album from the roots-rock act that goes a little less roots and a little more AAA rock.
Why You Should Listen: Dawes knows how to write a good song even if it's not what you expect.
Overall Thoughts: Dawes comes to this fifth album with a lot of baggage. Known as a great live band and having some seriously wonderful songs like "When My Time Comes" and "If I Wanted Someone," they've gone full adult alternative at this point, following a Guster-like trajectory into something a little less interesting. Nothing here especially stands out except for how it ultimately feels somewhat mediocre and mailed-in. For a band with this much going for it and so much talent in songwriting and performing, it's worth setting the bar high, and they unfortunately don't come close to clearing it.
Recommendation: Might be worth trying for a listen, but I doubt you'll want to stick around.

Artist: Preoccupations
Album: Preoccupations
Quick Description: The band formerly known as Viet Cong improves on an already-solid post-punk sound.
Why You Should Listen: Easily the most interesting listen this week.
Overall Thoughts: I didn't love this band's debut, and some issues with the band's admittedly misguided name (both real world and internet) prompted a change to Preoccupations, and with that change seems to be a renewed focus of sorts on some music that is really an interesting listen from start to finish. Nine tracks with single word titles, a lot of fascinating musical choices, and the result is a really solid listen.
Recommendation: A favorite this week. Definitely give this a spin.

Artist: AlunaGeorge
Album: I Remember
Quick Description: Second album from the duo struggles to find its spot.
Why You Should Listen: Their first album was great, and when this is working it is working.
Overall Thoughts: This is an album I really want to take more time with. Even though the first listen did not make a huge impact on me on a whole, their debut album was a really solid album that mixed electronica and R&B in a pretty great way. Since then, a lot of acts are doing a similar thing, and AlunaGeorge hasn't really stepped forward to capitalize until now. The result is an album that I didn't hate, but didn't feel like it did much to stand out, either. We'll see if this is more of a grower, but for now I'm withholding significant judgement.
Recommendation: Certainly worth a listen.

Artist: Amanda Shires
Album: My Piece of Land
Quick Description: Latest album from the folkie turns the acoustics up to eleven.
Why You Should Listen: Shires has yet to produce a bad album.
Overall Thoughts: Down Fell the Doves came out three years ago and it still holds up (as well as still sits in my "saved music" lineup in Spotify even now). In an era where bands and artists tend to abandon the folk for the more mainstream, Shires succeeds in staying true to her sound while still feeling like she's evolving. The comparisons to her husband, Jason Isbell, will surely persist, but I'll come right out and say that this album cements my belief that Shires is the superior artist. This is a great album and should deserve all the recognition it's sure to get.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week. A great listen.

Artist: The Handsome Family
Album: Unseen
Quick Description: Latest album by the folk artists, first since True Detective.
Why You Should Listen: Their dark, brooding folk music hits a lot of our favorites here.
Overall Thoughts: After "Far From Any Road" got picked up as the season 1 theme for True Detective, The Handsome Family got some overdue attention. Unseen continues along the same workmanlike quality that their older albums provide, and their sound continues to have a lot of solid appeal even if there aren't necessarily individual standout songs.
Recommendation: Still a good listen for this week.

Artist: Against Me!
Album: Shape Shift With Me
Quick Description: Latest album from the punk act.
Why You Should Listen: Against Me! continues to be great even with the added attention.
Overall Thoughts: Transgender Dysphoria Blues was a creative feat following Laura Jane Grace's gender transition, and she has quickly become an LGBT icon following that release. It was a valid question as to whether the newfound attention and such would be a creative drag, but the opposite appears to be true. "333" was a great lead single, but the rest of the album is just as solid and urgent. While longtime fans might still think it's too mainstream compared to their earlier work and while it's not perhaps as significant as Transgender Dysphoria Blues, it also means that it's not necessarily letting itself get too dragged down in the gender politics. Overall, a really, really great listen at first blush, and one I look forward to listening to again.
Recommendation: A must-listen this week.

Also out this week:

* Phantogram - Three
* Meat Loaf - Braver Than We Are
* Mykki Blanco - Mykki

Hallelujah the Hills Cover The Velvet Underground

Photo by Courtney Brooke Hall
As you've probably noticed, we love cover songs here at If It's Too Loud..., and we're also pretty big fans of Hallelujah the Hills. Imagine my joy when over the weekend, Hallelujah the Hills sent out a link to their email subscribers that included a cover of The Velvet Underground's "Run Run Run." It's a great choice for the band, since Hallelujah the Hills stylistically are quite different from The Velvet Underground. "Run Run Run" is one of The Velvet Underground's more rambunctious covers, and Hallelujah the Hills does is perfectly. The cover is from a live show recorded at the Black Cat in D.C. earlier this year, and you can definitely tell it's a live show based on the quality, but it makes me miss the muddled bootlegs of ye olden days. They do it a little louder and noisier than the original, but it chugs along with the perfect mix of tribute and their own style.

You can listen to Hallelujah the Hills' cover of "Run Run Run" below. To make sure you don't miss out on the fun of being on their mailing list, head on over to their website and sign up. If you happen to be in the Boston area this weekend, they'll be playing as part of The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence at Brighton Music Hall on Sunday. The show also includes Tanya Donelly, Bill Janovitz, Mike Gent, Vapors of Morphine, Marissa Nadler and more.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Wayne Hancock - "Slingin' Rhythm"

Throwback country can almost be a dirty word. Sometimes artists that get stuck with the throwback country label can be pretty hokey and cartoonish. Luckily we have Wayne "the Train" Hancock. He's been at it for over 20 years even though he sounds like he's been at it for at least twice that. His latest single, "Slingin' Rhythm," is an ode to being a traveling, working class struggling musician. It's a bouncy, bare bones track that celebrates the hardships of the road.

Wayne "the Train" Hancock's newest album, also called Slingin' Rhythm, will be out on October 28 via Bloodshot Records. You can order a copy through their website, and listen to "Slingin' Rhythm" below. For more information on Wayne Hancock, be sure to check out his website.

Friday Freebie: Matt Pond PA - Free the Fawns!

So much for Matt Pond PA being done and over with. Sounds like their label issues are worked out and things are on track for another album later this year. To celebrate, however, they're offering a bunch of demos up on Noisetrade for free download, and they're playing some east coast gigs toward the end of the year (including Great Scott in Allston).

So hop on over to Noisetrade for free music and tour dates, and I'll be looking forward to the new music, given that last year's album was a highlight.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Hoots and Hellmouth - "Diction"

Photo by Melissa Madison Fuller
The name Hoots and Hellmouth tells you everything you need to know about a band, right? They're obviously throwback rockabilly with imagery of skeletons and 50s horror movies. Well... this isn't the first time I've been wrong. Hailing from Philadelphia, Hoots and Hellmouth craft beautiful, soulful Americana. Their new song, "Diction," dances on the line between folk and soul. It's definitely not enough of soul to be considered soul, but it's too groovy to be folk. The obvious comparison I'm going to make is Band of Horses, but maybe a little less rock. Somehow Hoots and Hellmouth have taken two of the most common genres of music that get blended, but are just enough in the middle of both to have made a unique sound of their own.

Hoots and Hellmouth's fourth album, In the Trees, will be out October 28. You can watch the video for "Diction" below. For more information on the band, check out their websiteTour dates are also below.

10/05 Beachland Tavern - Cleveland, OH
10/06 Club Cafe - Pittsburgh, PA 10/07 The Ark - Ann Arbor, MI
10/08 Ignition Garage - Goshen, IN
10/09 The Tonic Room - Chicago. IL
10/13 Hi-Dive - Denver, CO
10/15 Rose Music Hall - Columbia, MO
10/16 The Bootleg - St. Louis, MO
10/19 The Basement - Nashville, TN
10/21 Purple Fiddle - Thomas, WV
10/22 The Abbey Bar - Harrisburg, PA
11/11 Gypsy Sally's - Washington, DC
11/17 Atwoods Tavern - Cambridge, MA
11/18 Brooklyn Bowl - Brooklyn, NY
11/20 Musikfest Cafe - Bethlehem, PA
12/02 The Ardmore Music Hall - Ardmore, PA

Selector Dub Narcotic - "Hotter Than Hott"

Selector Dub Narcotic is a new project from the legendary Calvin Johnson. In case you don't immediately recognize the name Calvin Johnson, he founded K Records as well as the highly influential bands Beat Happening, Halo Benders, and Dub Narcotic Sound System. Selector Dub Narcotic is his collaboration with hip hop producer Smoke M2D6. Calvin Johnson doing hip hop sounds like a weird, weird combination, and you'd be right. I can't say that "Hotter Than Hott" is a good song. Odd is probably a better description. But it is fun. And highly infectious, especially as it goes on. It's worth at least a few listens. It is Calvin Johnson, after all. But there's also a good chance you'll become obsessed with the song after the third listen. You might thank me (or be furious with me) later.

Selector Dub Narcotic's album, This Party is Just Getting Started, will be out September 16 on K Records, of course. You can watch the video for "Hotter Than Hott" below.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

First Listen, Part Two: More New Releases for September 9

Here are the rest of the releases from this week!

Artist: Psychic Twin
Album: Strange Diary
Quick Description: Debut synth pop from Polyvinyl.
Why You Should Listen: Aspects of this stand out in a crowded genre.
Overall Thoughts: Synth pop is so flooded right now that it's hard to break through, but Psychic Twin makes a solid effort this week. While nothing dives out as exceptional at first listen, this does have a raw indie quality to it that's often lacking from a lot of like acts. Definitely worth a shot if this is your genre.
Recommendation: A good listen.

Artist: Okkervil River
Album: Away
Quick Description: Latest album from the popular indie act.
Why You Should Listen: It's probably the best thing they've done since "Lost Coastlines."
Overall Thoughts: I cannot admit to being a huge Okkervil River guy, but I have lots of friends who are really into them. "Lost Coastlines" is a classic, but this album is, I feel, the closest we've gotten to that since that era for the band. So I like it quite a bit in that regard, although I don't really know where it stands in the canon. So it's worth your time, but might not be for all.
Recommendation: Worth your time this week.

Artist: Allah-Las
Album: Calico Review
Quick Description: Retro goodness.
Why You Should Listen: Another crowded genre, the Allah-Las know how to stand out a little better.
Overall Thoughts: This is the third album from the band, and this clearly feels like they've found their form and come out with a superlative album. Seriously, if "Could Be You" can't grab you, nothing will, and this is a rollicking record that's unlike anything out this week or recently. You owe it to yourself to give it a listen.
Recommendation: One of the better releases this week.

Some quick hits to round this out, because I don't have much of anything to say about them:

* KT Tunstall - KIN: Radio-ready adult contemporary music. I miss the old KT, personally.
* Local Natives - Sunlit Youth: Radio-ready, unchallenging. Not worth the listen.
* Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree: I don't know much Nick Cave, but this is interesting and weird. Worth a shot.

Also out this week:

* Grouplove - Big Mess
* Jack White - Acoustic Recordings (surprisingly inessential)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

First Listen, Part One: New Releases for September 9

With a pretty busy week, we're going to make this a two-parter this week.

Album of the Week:

Artist: clipping.
Album: Splendor and Misery
Quick Description: The science fiction rap opera you didn't know you were waiting for.
Why You Should Listen: This is an "experimental rap" group that includes Daveed Diggs from Hamilton fame.
Overall Thoughts: I actually first got exposed to clipping. via their Song Exploder episode, and I really liked "Work Work," so a new album? I'm on board. This is far from what I'd call an easy album, but it's absolutely unlike much/most of what we're hearing in this genre lately. Some sci-fi storytelling, some political content, some great lyrics and delivery. It's the total package. Even if you're not into rap/hip-hop, this is really a required listen this week, as there's something different and special here, and it's likely to get more attention with Diggs's rise to fame.
Recommendation: A must-listen this week.

Artist: Wilco
Album: Schmilco
Quick Description: Latest album from the seminal act.
Why You Should Listen: Wilco still has a lot of good will saved up...
Overall Thoughts: ...but this is really just a return to the dad rock that made me nearly jump off the bandwagon a few years ago. Star Wars felt fresh and different and this, well, just doesn't. If anything, this album reaffirmed my belief that Wilco hasn't been the same since Jay Bennett left the band and I'm just not into it at all.
Recommendation: Skip this unless you're either a superfan or keep NPR on all the time when you're not listening to music.

Artist: The Head and The Heart
Album: Signs of Light
Quick Description: Radio-friendly folk rock.
Why You Should Listen: The Head and The Heart know how to craft inoffensive melodic folky songs.
Overall Thoughts: I suppose it's bad news that I completely forgot they released an album in 2013, right? The Head and The Heart will always be "Lost In My Mind" for me, but the new album feels like radio-ready Lumineers folk rock, and that's fine for them and I suppose fine for me, too. It's not anything special or groundbreaking, but it's a perfectly pleasurable listen that will be great for those beginning of fall gatherings and likely be part of the rotation in offices nationwide.
Recommendation: It's fine. Worth a listen.

Artist: Teenage Fanclub
Album: Here
Quick Description: Latest album by the indie legends.
Why You Should Listen: Teenage Fanclub always deserves a listen based on reputation alone.
Overall Thoughts: So here's a dirty secret - I don't really know Teenage Fanclub well. I know I've heard (and probably own) Bandwagonesque, but I've mostly forgotten this band in my music brain. So this album was a surprise in that I was expecting something closer to Superchunk than a 70s rock thing. Still, this is a really nice listen, and I can't compare it to their old work but I think you'll like it regardless. A high quality release this week.
Recommendation: A good, solid listen.

Artist: The Ramona Flowers
Album: Part Time Spies
Quick Description: Better-than-typical synth rock.
Why You Should Listen: While they aren't breaking new ground, the sounds here are very well-crafted.
Overall Thoughts: The Ramona Flowers are marching right behind bands like Friendly Fires in terms of their sound, and this means we're not getting anything new from them, but that doesn't matter much. The result here is a pretty fun listen that's worth some time as the only thing like itself in a week with a lot of otherwise uninteresting releases. If there's any criticism, it's that it might be too married to its influences, but if you like the 80s-tinged stuff, this might work for you.
Recommendation: Derivative but not bad.

Artist: St. Paul and the Broken Bones
Album: Sea of Noise
Quick Description: High-quality soul music.
Why You Should Listen: This is definitely the most musically-gorgeous album of the week.
Overall Thoughts: I've said in the past that soul music doesn't really hit me, but there's a lot of reverence for the genre in this album, and it just works. Some beautiful songs from start to finish, and if a song like "All I Ever Wonder" doesn't grab you, well, I don't know what to say. I can't wait to spend more time with this one.
Recommendation: A great listen this week.

Also out this week:

* Bastille - Wild World
* Daniel Lanois and Rocco DeLuca - Goodbye to Language

Live Shows: Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys and Ruby Rose Fox, The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA 9/9/16

Photo by Ken Sears
A Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys show is always more of an event than just a mere concert. The month leading up to their album release show last Friday at The Sinclair promised a spectacle that any fan simply had to attend. It was a lot of hype, especially considering some of the shows I have seen of theirs in the past, but I headed out to Cambridge to check it out.

The band chose to play their just released that day album, Come Black Magic, in its entirety from start to finish for the main portion of the set. The album/show opener, "Children of the Cauldron," is more of an intro, clocking in at under 90 seconds of noise with Walter Sickert ranting over it. The performance of the song featured vocalist/percussionist/mandolin player Mary Widow painting burlesque performer Belle Gunz's body, nude except for pasties and a g-string. From there, they broke into the raucous main single, "Come Black Magic." It's easy for the loud songs at a live show to take
Photo by Ken Sears
all the attention (they are more fun to bop around, after all), but this night some of the more quiet ones were quite memorable. "Behave," about ghost children, really stood out thanks to the relatively new backing vocals of Mary Widow. Another highlight was the ode to The Shining, "Red Rum." That could partially be because it's been a staple of their live show for a few years now, so the crowd was more familiar with it. It did highlight the only disappointment of the show: The movie footage from The Shining played one song earlier than "Red Rum." It's more disappointing not for the crowd, but that planning went slightly wrong. They also played their cover of Bjork's "Army of Me," and told a tale of climbing a mountain to present their cover to Bjork herself. She was so pleased with it, she didn't throw it off the mountain as she did other gifts. [Editor's note: This story has not been verified by Bjork's publicist.]

Photo by Ken Sears
It's also the only show I've ever been to that was interrupted by a bedtime story for a toddler. Towards the end of the main set, Walter Sickert and Edie Edrie's daughter wandered out on stage for a reading of a board book copy of Jabberwocky. That might seem out of place at any concert, particularly one that goes after midnight and features various levels of nudity. The song before featured another dancer wearing only pasties and a g-string, after all. The Army of Broken Toy's entire catalog is made up primarily of songs involving death, the apocalypse, murder, etc. But, at the heart of it, they are primarily a family band of misfits spreading a message of love, in their own bizarre little way. Not many artists can pull off singing the line "Momma will daddy kill us" with love in their hearts, but the Army of Broken Toys are that band.

Although I didn't catch much of her set, I do have to mention Ruby Rose Fox. People having been raving about
Photo by Ken Sears
her in the Boston area for years, but she's never really done it for me. Her music, while nice, was a little too mainstream for my personal taste. After seeing her live on Friday? Now I totally get it. Ruby Rose Fox is an insanely talented singer and performer who brings a unique spin on her branch of the new soul movement. It is a wee bit more mainstream than I would normally like, but sometimes pure talent defies personal taste. She definitely had her own fans that showed up very well dressed and singing every word to songs like "Bury the Body." She may have seemed to be an odd choice to open up for a steam crunk/folk/punk/metal/burlesque band, but Friday was more of a celebration of the entire Boston music scene than a genre. I wish more shows were booked like this.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Pony Hunt - "Over You"

Folk has been around pretty much forever. There's really not a whole lot that can be done with it to make it sound familiar. Even "progressive" folk seems to be spinning its wheels lately. The best thing an artist can do to make unique folk is to just tweak it slightly. That's exactly what Pony Hunt have done on their new single, "Over You."

"Over You" starts really traditionally, as far as folk songs go. Just a strummed acoustic guitar and fairly standard vocals. But then the doo-wop backing vocals come in. Not being a music historian, I'm sure someone has combined this in the past, but as far as modern folk goes, it's pure bliss. Bringing such classic American sounds such as sun drenched 60s California country folk and the groove of 50s and 60s doo-wop is being done to perfection by Pony Hunt. And that's even before the horns kick in way in the background.

 Pony Hunt's new album, Heart Creek, will be released on October 7. You can listen to "Over You" below. For more info on Pony Hunt, check out their/her website here.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys - "Come Black Magic"

Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys released their new single "Come Black Magic" about 20 years too late. The mid 90s were this magical time where your favorite weirdo band could have a breakthrough single. "Come Black Magic" would have been the perfect single for this. It's just heavy enough for the metal kids to get into, but odd enough for the alternative/college radio crowd to enjoy. There's also actual guitar solos! (Don't worry, you'll still get some killer viola solos. This still is Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys, after all...) Plus, the addition of Mary Widow singing backing vocals and harmony adds this crazy layer to the band, and just pulls you into the song even further than before. "Come Black Magic" is Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys' guaranteed hit single. If this had existed in the 90s, there would have been a screwed up video for it that would have started on 120 Minutes, then been a guaranteed Buzz Bin video, and radio airplay on the modern rock stations. Unfortunately, this is 2016 and none of that exists anymore. 

You can listen to "Come Black Magic" below. The album Come Black Magic will be released tomorrow, September 9. You can get your copy over at Bandcamp. If you happen to be in the Boston area that day, make sure you head out to the album release show at The Sinclair in Cambridge. It's almost guaranteed to be the event of the year.

The Needy Sons - Vis-A-Vis

The Needy Sons started a few years back as a bar band that played mostly covers in and around Boston. Granted, they're a bar band that was founded by Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom and Mike Gent of The Figgs, but still a bar band. Unexpectedly, at least to us, The Needy Sons just released their debut fill length, Vis-A-Vis.

The Needy Sons, which now also features Ed Valauskas and Eric Anderson, have the distinction of being a Bill Janovitz project that doesn't really sound anything like Buffalo Tom. It's just really good Americana tinged rock and roll, like the kind Tom Petty makes. Right now my two favorite tracks are "Red Line" and ""Chopped Down," although Vis-A-Vis feels like the kind of album that will give you a new favorite track each time you listen. Definitely the two most traditionally rockin' songs on the album, "Red Line" is somehow an ode to the embattled MBTA, or maybe love? I'm bad at the meanings behind songs. "Chopped Down" is a wee bit crunchier with a steady groove throughout, and might be the most 90s sounding song on the album.

Vis-A-Vis is available now via The Needy Sons' Bandcamp.  You can also follow them on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

First Listen: New Releases for September 2

A slower week with the American Labor Day holiday, there are still some solid releases to highlight:

Album of the Week:

Artist: Angel Olsen
Album: My Woman
Quick Description: Latest album by the independent singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: This should rightfully be a breakthrough album for her.
Overall Thoughts: I struggled to categorize her previous album, even though I really liked it, and "Shut Up Kiss Me," a lead release from this new album, failed to grab me. In a full album context, though, it all starts to make sense, as Olsen is flexing her songwriting muscle throughout here, making an off-center-yet-accessible release that should really put her on the map. Give "Sister" a listen, then the entire album, and I don't think you'll be disappointed.
Recommendation: Easily the best of the week.

Artist: The Last Royals
Album: Never Be Alone
Quick Description: New album from an indie pop group takes a new route.
Why You Should Listen: When they write a good hooky pop song, it works wonders.
Overall Thoughts: I was obsessed with "Crystal Vases" when their debut EP hit in 2010. Six years since then and the band's sound has shifted to something a little more complicated. It works, but you're going to find less hooky stuff here than in their previous work. It's replaced by some good tunes, but you might not love this.
Recommendation: Give this a shot.

Artist: James Vincent McMorrow
Album: We Move
Quick Description: Irish dream-folky goes a little more mainstream.
Why You Should Listen: This is a move away from the Bon Iverian sound into something more interesting.
Overall Thoughts: I highlight this only because, in a slower week, this is a really interesting listen. I haven't been grabbed by McMorrow up to this point, but this has all the inklings of a major breakthrough, especially given the production values and such. I enjoyed this and need to spend more time with it, but it's a solid listen nonetheless.
Recommendation: Worth your time this week.

Artist: Helms Alee
Album: Stillicide
Quick Description: Loud, brash, heavy post-rock.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoyed ...Trail of Dead and just wished they were heavier.
Overall Thoughts: I shouldn't like Helms Alee, really, because it's just so loud and heavy, but there's an intricacy to their songwriting that just seems to stand out. I considered giving up on this one well into the first opening track, but I'm glad I stuck with it, as songs like "Tit to Toe" just work in that sort of complex way that keeps you guessing. I can't wait to dive back in on this album in particular.
Recommendation: Not going to be for everyone, but this worked for me.

Also out this week:

* Cymbals Eat Guitars - Pretty Years
* Nouvelle Rogue - Athol Brose
* Skye and Ross - Skye and Ross (solid, unassuming soul-ish music)
* The Parrots - Los Ninos Sin Miedo (old-style garage rock)

Friday, September 2, 2016

Live Shows: The Melvins, Fete Ballroom, Providence, RI 8/29/16

Photo via Facebook
The Melvins are always an interesting band. They tend to release anywhere from 1-3 albums per year, with varying results. Some are absolute classics, while others are... interesting. But their live shows are always a must see. I had missed them earlier this year on the Savage Imperial Death March Tour with Napalm Death and Melt Banana. Luckily for me, they swung through New England again and hit Providence.

A Melvins show can be quite the challenge for a casual fan. The band open up with an instrumental intro with very minimal bass, drums, and occasional guitar that seemed to last roughly three hours. (Ok, it was probably ten minutes, but that's still a pretty long time.) The crowd was rewarded heavily with a fan favorite set that brushed the majority of the band's career. Despite having just released a new (and pretty great) album, Basses Loaded, The Melvins only played two songs off of it, "Hideous Woman" and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." They also broke out three covers, Kiss' "Deuce" (sung by bass player Steven McDonald), a Redd Kross cover, and Alice Cooper's "Halo of Flies," a longtime live staple of theirs. "The Kicking Machine" also brought out a great reaction from the audience. The band seemed to poke fun of their fairly rotating line up, with drummer Dale Crover and bass player Steve McDonald wearing shirts with their names on them. King Buzzo might be the only man to pull off a one piece emblazoned with an eyeball. And despite Fete Ballroom having a full array of lighting options, they stuck with an orange theme for the entire evening.

I would also like to apologize to the opener, Helms Alee. Fete has a small side room that is filled with working classic arcade games. I got far too sucked into playing a Judge Dredd pinball and missed the majority of the set. What I heard was great, so definitely give them a better shot than I did.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

American Wrestlers - "Give Up"

Photo by Evan Cuttler
When I first saw there was a band called American Wrestlers on Fat Possum Records, I instantly knew what they sounded like. It was going to be dirty, bluesy punk, obviously. Apparently I'm old (and we missed their debut album from last year), since that doesn't appear to be Fat Possum's thing anymore. "Give Up," the new song from American Wrestlers, is upbeat and poppy as can be. American Wrestlers was started by Gary McClure after moving from Scotland to St. Louis, MO of all places. The song stops just a few steps away from being twee, and are on the more rockin' side of what is now called dream pop.

American Wrestlers' second album, Goodbye Terrible Youth, is due out November 4 on Fat Possum Records. You can pre-order it here. For more information on American Wrestlers, check them out on Facebook and Twitter. You can listen to "Give Up" below.