Friday, July 21, 2017

J.R. Roach Covers Jimmy Reed

Based on what we write about on here, you most likely wouldn't guess that either one of us would be obsessed with Sam Black Church. Hardcore typically isn't my thing, but they just do this bizarre, unhinged version of it that has always resonated with me. Plus, if you were coming of age in central Massachusetts in the early to mid 90's, Sam Black Church stickers covered virtually every road sign, drive-thru menu, etc. It was viral marketing before there was such a thing.

Even odder is this first solo offering from J.R. Roach, Sam Black Church's drummer. (He also drums for Goddamn Draculas.) It's a cover of the Jimmy Reed 1961 classic blues song "Bright Lights, Big City." It's a pretty standard cover while being amped up just slightly. It avoids the middle aged white guy doing the blues thing you'll hear at your local BBQ and Blues fest this summer, and maybe it's just my assumptions based on who Reed is, but the guitar licks have just the trace hints of a metal riff. 

You can listen to J.R. Roach's cover of "Bright Lights, Big City" below. You can get your own copy of the song at Roach's Bandcamp. For more on J.R. Roach, check out his website.

Stalagmites - "Binary"

Photo by James Byrne
If you're from Manchester, starting a band is a damned if you do/damned if you don't proposal. How do you not start a band when your city has such a rich and legendary history? But... how do you start a band when your city has such a rich and legendary history? I'm not saying Stalagmites are the next legendary Manchester band, but based on "Binary," they're off to a good start.

"Binary" borrows pretty heavily from multiple genres. It could just be that the opening (and repeated) riff is very reminiscent of "Bastards of Young," but there's more than a hint of The Replacements here. You're going to hear a ton of modern post punk, but the more palatable Interpol variety than Gang of Four. When the guitar isn't sounding like The Replacements, it swirls around on the line between shoegaze and psychedelia. It's a great blend that takes a few of the most copied genres but puts them together in a way we're not quite used to.

You can watch the video for "Binary" below. The single is available now on Veta Records. For more on Stalagmites, check them out on Facebook.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Melkbelly - "Kid Kreative"

The latest single from Chicago's Melkbelly will hit a perfect retro button if you were an indie rock fan in the 1990's. Right from the use of a "K" to spell creative in the name "Kid Kreative," you'll know the level of 90's you're getting. It's crunchy, droning guitars that just chug along with a stylistically half done guitar solo, plus fairly monotone vocals (and I mean all of that in the best possible way). It never gets quite as noisy as you want it to get, but it's a great alternative pop song in the vein of The Breeders and Cake Like.

You can watch the video for "Kid Kreative" below. Melkbelly's debut album, Nothing Valley, will be out on October 13 via Wax Nine Records (aka Sadie Duspuis' (Sad13, Speedy Ortiz) label!) It can be pre-ordered here. For more on Melkbelly, check out their Bandcamp and Facebook.

Lee Ranaldo - "New Thing"

Photo via Facebook
At this point in his career, you should know what to expect from Lee Ranaldo. He's the guy formerly of Sonic Youth that brought in the psychedelic noise and was the master of the ten minute solo heavy jam. That's why his latest single, "New Thing," is so surprising. It's a fairly straightforward mainstream almost folk song. I've always said that he was the George Harrison of Sonic Youth, but for this song he's John Lennon. It includes melodic guitar and piano (the piano is very reminiscent of "Imagine"), Ranaldo harmonizing with Sharon Van Etten, and pretty standard verse/chorus/verse format. Sure, every so often there's a burst of feedback followed by some psychedelic guitar, but this is kept to a very minimum. After a 30+ year career, Lee Ranaldo can still surprise, this time by being so normal.

You can watch the video for "New Thing" below. Lee Ranaldo's latest album, Electric Trim, will be out September 15 on Mute Records. It can be pre-ordered here. For more on Ranaldo, check out his website.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Torres - "Three Futures"

Photo by Ashley Connor
Last month we brought you Torres' first single on 4AD, and last week her 4AD debut was announced along with a new song. "Three Futures" is a slow, slow build. Dominated by strings and driven by electronic sounding drums, it's a sluggish song that doesn't gain any speed, but builds intensity. It's not a nice song in the pretty sense. It's a bit uncomfortable and foreboding in the best possible way. Torres' voice adds to the mood of the song. She's never had a traditional sound to her voice, and "Three Futures" is the best example of her vocal talents.

You can watch the video for "Three Futures" below. Torres' 4AD debut, also called Three Futures, will be out September 29. For more on Torres, check out her website.

First Listen: New Releases for June 14

Album of the Week:

Artist: Waxahatchee
Album: Out in the Storm
Quick Description: Latest from the indie singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: Katie Crutchfield has improved with every album under the Waxahatchee moniker, and this is her best yet.
Overall Thoughts: I don't know how to describe this, even now, because Waxahatchee has always filled its own little nook in the indie world. Trying to compare it to anything else is a little bit of a challenge, and that's fine - at its core, it's a unique indie listen, and this is no different. But this album also gives us songs like "Silver" and "Never Been Wrong" that speak to a positive evolution in her sound that just works for me. I can't recommend this enough, and I hope it has some solid staying power.
Recommendation: Easily the best of the week.

Artist: RAC
Album: EGO
Quick Description: Turntablist/DJs continue their pop ways.
Why You Should Listen: They've traditionally been interesting.
Overall Thoughts: I really enjoyed this DJ/turntable collective’s previous album, but this one just feels… weird. Some songs are solid – the Rivers Cuomo effort is fine, the MDNR song a definite plus, but on a whole, this feels more like going through the motions more than anything.
Recommendation: Probably skip it.

Artist: Kabells
Album: Ten Flowers
Quick Description: Strange, poppy music.
Why You Should Listen: This is definitely the most interesting listen of the week.
Overall Thoughts: Sometimes these songs have a whistle to them where I think it’s Andrew Bird singing falsetto with an electronica backing effort. Other times this feels like the standard pop efforts that are a little left of center and won’t get a ton of radio play. I can’t say this did much for me at all, and I can’t say I fully grasp the intentions here.
Recommendation: I didn't love this, but you might.

Artist: Siobhan Wilson
Album: There Are No Saints
Quick Description: Solid singer-songwritery stuff.
Why You Should Listen: A fascinating listen this week.
Overall Thoughts: In what kind of looks like a slowish week, I took a flier on this one and I’m glad I did – this is a unique singer-songwritery take, has some folk elements but also pushes out a lot of fuzzy elements and takes plenty of risks.
Recommendation: Absolutely try this one out.

Artist: Dishwalla
Album: Juniper Road
Quick Description: The latest 1990s revival.
Why You Should Listen: You loved "Counting Blue Cars."
Overall Thoughts: As much as we’re loving the 1990s revival around these parts, this was not an album anyone was asking for and is really not an album we needed. They’re also trying to be a little heavier than what they’re famous for, and none of it works.
Recommendation: Skip this.

Artist: Shabazz Palaces
Album: Quazars vs. The Jealous Machines
Quick Description: Off-center rap music.
Why You Should Listen: The weirdest rap album you'll hear this year.
Overall Thoughts: Some really dark, perhaps almost gothic in a way, rap music. There was a moment when Tricky, the trip-hop guy, was experimenting in this space a bit, and this felt very reminiscent of that effort. As for this, I don’t think it was bad, but I can definitively say it wasn’t for me. If you’re looking for something really different, give this a shot...
Recommendation: ... but your mileage may vary.

Artist: Offa Rex
Album: The Queen of Hearts
Quick Description: British folk with the Decemberists.
Why You Should Listen: If the Decemberists don't get you on board, the rest of this should.
Overall Thoughts: This was a surprise! I did not anticipate a collaboration between the Decemberists and a British folk singer, but here we are – the album itself is fun, feeling both modern and traditional, and it toes that line perfectly. Colin Meloy’s voice on the tracks where he’s featured as a vocalist are perfect, and Olivia Chaney often sounds like she was transported from two generations ago.
Recommendation: One of my favorite listens this week, and just a great little piece of music overall.

Artist: Oh Wonder
Album: Ultralife
Quick Description: New album from the poppy duo.
Why You Should Listen: Oh Wonder isn't forging a new path, but they still sound new and fresh in their space.
Overall Thoughts: Oh Wonder is sort of like the poppy cousin of The Head and the Heart in my brain. I can’t think of many acts that sound like them, but what they do generally works. This latest album is Oh Wonder hitting their stride, and it’s pretty solid. Even songs like “Bigger Than Love,” which try to be a little less traditional, have a lot going for it.
Recommendation: On a whole, a solid listen this week.

Artist: Twisted Pine
Album: Twisted Pine
Quick Description: Great straightforward bluegrass.
Why You Should Listen: You like your roots records to be no-nonsense.
Overall Thoughts: This is just a fun, light bluegrass record, no way around it. Pretty vocals, great instrumentation, and it doesn’t try to jump outside of what it does really well. If you’re into the more “progressive bluegrass” that’s made some waves in the last decade, you’ll probably be bored by this, but as someone who really enjoys the traditionalist side, this is a gorgeous modern take.
Recommendation: Absolutely give this some time this week, it’s a lovely listen.

Artist: The Dears
Album: Times Infinity Volume Two
Quick Description: The latest from the Canadian indie rockers.
Why You Should Listen: They were so good early on that it's hard not to want to try them again.
Overall Thoughts: I feel like I’ve been waiting for The Dears to replicate the brilliance of their first album for 15 years. This one doesn’t do it for me, unfortunately, being a bit of a mishmash of genres and ideas that never seems to fully flow together. Lots of talent here, but I never feel as if the execution is there for me anymore.
Recommendation: A miss.

EPs this week:

* Coldplay - Kaleidoscope (They've become a ridiculous band over the last decade, but they know how to write an anthemic song better than anyone)
* Best Ex - Ice Cream Anti-Social (awfully close to the pop side of things, but it works when it works)
* Railroad Earth - Captain Nowhere (Solid if unspectacular)
* The Radio Dept. - Teach Me To Forget

Also out this week:

* Sheer Mag - Need to Feel Your Love
* Psychic Temple - IV

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Dead Milkmen - "Only the Dead Get Off at Kymlinge"

Photo via Facebook
My long term love of The Dead Milkmen has been well documented here, so I'm thrilled that we can say that there's a new Dead Milkmen song! Not very long ago, the thought of new music from these guys was limited to merely wishing for some unheard tracks being unearthed, but here we are two albums and multiple singles into new Dead Milkmen music this century.

The Dead Milkmen have a new EP coming out this fall, and we can now hear the first song from it. "Only the Dead Get Off at Kymlinge" fits right into the reunited band's sound. It's a little more rocking than their 80's and 90's output, and the band is losing the novelty tag that was wrongly placed on them for too long. The song is about an urban legend about a Swedish ghost train station, so this hits so many of my buttons. It's a driving, fun song about a ghost train. If that doesn't appeal to you, then you're just wrong.

You can listen to "Only the Dead Get Off at Kymlinge" below. The Dead Milkmen's new EP, Welcome to the End of the World, will be out in the fall on The Giving Groove. 50% of all profits after taxes will be donated to Girls Rock Philly. You can pre-order a copy here. For more on The Dead Milkmen, check out their website.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Brilliant Beast Covers Stereolab

With our love of cover songs, we look forward to each and every tribute album put out by The Blog That Celebrates Itself. This week saw the release of Stereolab in, Metronomic Underground Versions, their collection of Sterolab covers. To our particular delight was track one, which features one of our favorites, Brilliant Beast, covering "Wow and Flutter."

Brilliant Beast, with their noisier version of shoegaze, might seem like an odd band to take on Stereolab, and they are. That's one of the main reasons this cover works. The original is a typically light and airy Sterolab song, with a jangly guitar. Brilliant Beast have a heavier version with a far crunchier guitar. It somehow still maintains the feel of the original, albeit louder and with more rock.

You can listen to Brilliant Beast's cover of "Wow and Flutter" below. You can download your own copy of Stereolab in, Metronomic Underground Versions for free via The Blog That Celebrates Itself's Bandcamp. For more on Brilliant Beast, check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

The Furniture - "OPBD"

Photo via Facebook
Despite our love of Hallelujah the Hills, we have yet to write about bass player Nicholas G Ward's other band. They just released "OPBD," which is an odd little ode to his hometown of Peabody, MA. It works as a tribute to all of Massachusetts' uncool cities and towns. In true Massachusetts style, it's done mostly by stating simple facts and talking down about other areas, most notably California and the Great Lakes. Musically, "OPBD" is a rock song with just enough quirks to keep it interesting, almost like a more beer soaked Archers of Loaf. It's a fun song that clocks in at 2:02, which is the perfect length for a song like this.

You can listen to "OPBD" below. It can be downloaded for free via Bandcamp. For more on The Furniture, check them out on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Live Shows: Deer Tick, Prescott Park Arts Festival, Portsmouth, NH 7/7/17

Photo by Ken Sears
Deer Tick have always had a bar band feel to them. Maybe it's the fact that a ton of their songs are about booze. Maybe it's the fact that the first time I saw them they bought everyone in the club a beer. Maybe it's the copious amount of beer I've seen them drink onstage. Because of all that, a family friendly arts festival in a public park with a 7:00 start time was an odd venue for them, but last Friday it seemed to work.

Playing on a stage still set up for a family production of Mary Poppins, Deer Tick opened the show with one of their already released songs from their upcoming two albums. Unfortunately, the sound was a bit off so I couldn't tell which one. (The show started about 30 minutes late while they ironed out some issues due to the heavy rains that had just ended two hours before the show started.) Luckily, the issues were fixed by the second song, and the rest of the show sounded great.
Photo by Ken Sears

One great thing about a band playing without a new release out is that they're free to play whatever they wanted without worrying about their new album. Deer Tick played a few new songs, but a huge amount of their set was taken from their first two albums, War Elephant and Born on Flag Day. War Elephant was represented by perhaps my three favorite songs from their set: "Ashamed," "Dirty Dishes," and "These Old Shoes." The version of "Little White Lies" and "Song About a Man" from Born on Flag Day were more highlights. The band played a loose and laid back set while still being a rock band. At one point while they made some adjustments to the drum kit, John McCauley played the theme from Super Mario Bros. 

Photo by Ken Sears
The crowd was definitely used to the typical public park folk show, and stayed seated on blankets and lawn chairs for the vast majority of the show. A very small handful of people stood standing and dancing to the left of the stage, but most people were fine sitting just about as far from the stage as they could be. A very small group of preschoolers and toddlers used the walkway typically reserved for dancing for actually dancing. McCauley rewarded the kids participating in the show by handing out guitar picks, and then hopping off the stage to let some kids take turns playing his guitar. He might be creating the next generation of rock stars, and bless him for that.

It seemed that his act reminded the crowd that shows are much more fun if you're actively participating, and they came more alive for "Ashamed." For the final song of the main set, "Let's All Go to the Bar," renamed "Let's All Go to the Park" for the night, finally brought the crowd alive. People came running down from out of nowhere and filled up the area in front of the stage. Who knows how much fun the show could have been if everyone had that much energy for more than a single song?

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for July 7

We're back into a strong swing after the American holiday...

Album of the Week:

Artist: Great Grandpa
Album: Plastic Cough
Quick Description: More female-fronted 1990s alt-rock, nearly as good as the rest.
Why You Should Listen: Hits the right nostalgia buttons while still feeling new and fresh.
Overall Thoughts: A question I never asked until I heard this album was “what if Speedy Ortiz was trying to be more like a grungy version the 1990s revival we’ve been seeing lately?” The answer appears to be Great Grandpa (who have the best band name I’ve seen in some time). The lead track hit my radar some time ago, and I’ve been waiting for this release for some time. It’s very, very good, and I’m impressed by the choices and risks it takes musically – the band could have played things a little safe and worked toward a poppy indie rock record with some radio friendly songs ready and waiting for that breakout, and they instead went with some really interesting song structures and bold decisions. It mostly works – when it doesn’t work it can be a little jarring, which is what keeps this album from the Diet Cig/Charly Bliss/Daddy Issues echelon, but if those are the 1A releases in this space, Great Grandpa is a solid 1B and really deserves your time.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.

Artist: Lucy Rose
Album: Something's Changing
Quick Description: Singer-songwritery stuff that feels unique.
Why You Should Listen: You're into the singer-songwriter thing with some flair.
Overall Thoughts: I don’t quite know how I tripped up on this one overall, but this falls into that somewhat-theatrical, somewhat torchy singer-songwriter space that we’ve seen a fair number of releases from as of late. This album is perfectly fine, but I can’t say it ever reaches the sort of heights or interests on a whole that I would hope or expect on a whole. There are some solid highlights – “Soak It Up” in particular is a song that should get more attention than it will – but on a whole this is an album that will be a solid listen for many people but nothing that will blow your mind.
Recommendation: Worth a listen, but it might not work for you.

Artist: Public Service Broadcasting
Album: Every Valley
Quick Description: Found audio act's new album.
Why You Should Listen: The structure of their music is sound even if it's a little weird this time around.
Overall Thoughts: Our favorite found audio instrumentalist group is back with a new album that has a bit of a dystopian feel to it, unsurprisingly. The experience is what I come to expect at this point from the group, with the actual traditional songs littered in feeling both interesting and out of place. If I’m being honest with myself, listening to this as compared to, say, their album about the Space Race a couple years back doesn’t feel the same, and I know I should be listening to this less as a “this is an album to enjoy musically” and more as an aural art project, but it’s hard to separate the medium and the message here. Worth it for fans, but this might not be the best entry point for this act or this genre.
Recommendation: Listen to The Race for Space first, and if you like that, then come to this one.

Artist: Tristen
Album: Sneaker Waves
Quick Description: Blog favorite is back with maybe her best album yet.
Why You Should Listen: Tristen has mastered a mixing of genres.
Overall Thoughts: A favorite around these parts, we fell in love with her with her country-tinged folk album from a few years back, and her diversion into keyboard pop was interesting but ultimately divisive for a lot of fans. Her new album came about pretty fast given the relative silence over the last four years (save a poetry collection that was published in the meantime), but when “Glass Jar” hit, it burrowed into our brains and wouldn’t let go. The end result of this new album? On first listen, it’s definitely more country-tinged pop than electronic keyboard, but it appears that this is the sweet spot in combining all of Tristen’s influences into a tight package. The songwriting is sharp, the musicality is the best we’ve seen so far, and the result is a really solid listen that is an album I can’t wait to get back to. Absolutely a highlight of the week, and a solid way to truly kick off the second half of the year.
Recommendation: Nearly my album of the week. Find time for this one.

Artist: Charley Pride
Album: Music In My Heart
Quick Description: Country legend has a new album.
Why You Should Listen: It's Charley Pride, do I need to explain?
Overall Thoughts: a new album from an old country legend, and... it sounds like a new album from an old country legend. Pure sounds, standard stuff here. Not going to blow your mind at all, but it's a fun and pleasant listen, and it's good to hear other folks getting on board.
Recommendation: Solid if unspectacular, but it's worth a listen nonetheless.

Artist: Jasmine Guffond
Album: Traced
Quick Description: Haunting electronica.
Why You Should Listen: The most redeemingly-challenging listen this week.
Overall Thoughts: This is very challenging, very experimental indie electronica, and I loved it. I don't know how often I'll go back to it, but this sounds like it just came out of the new season of Twin Peaks, and it has an urgent, crazed feel to it that's designed to be a little awkward.
Recommendation: If you're up for the challenge, don't miss this.

Artist: This is the Kit
Album: Moonshine Freeze
Quick Description: New album from an alt-folkie.
Why You Should Listen: Better production and better songwriting equals a solid album.
Overall Thoughts: I seriously enjoyed the first album from This Is The Kit. The new album here is a more mature, better sounding effort in many ways - all aspects of the presentation are improved, and there are a lot of highlights to point to. The first two songs, especially "Hotter Colder," really set the tone the rest of the way, and if you are into weirder folk sounds, this is absolutely something that's deserving of your energy. It's an album that sticks to your guts, and I can't wait to come back for more.
Recommendation: Make sure this hits your rotation this week.

Artist: Toro y Moi
Album: Boo Boo
Quick Description: Latest from the funky indie act.
Why You Should Listen: Toro y Moi is always interesting.
Overall Thoughts: Toro y Moi has never grabbed me, so I'm not sure what it is about this album that really caught my notice. IT's got a very 80s feel to it, almost to a fault at times, but then you get songs like "Inside My Head" that just seem to make sense. This is weird and funky at times, and it reminds me of The Weeknd in some ways, which feels both right and wrong. I think there's a lot of ambition here that's worth exploring, so I recommend that you give it a shot, but this might not work for everyone.
Recommendation: A solid listen that might not work for everyone.

Artist: Broken Social Scene
Album: Hug of Thunder
Quick Description: Return album from the indie legends.
Why You Should Listen: Broken Social Scene are super important to
Overall Thoughts: If you came into indie music at a certain time, Broken Social Scene was kind of the hipster gold standard. I regret to say that I've never quite understood the appeal - they're good, but not godly - and this revival of sorts is more of the same. If you still love them the way you did in your 20s, run with it. For me, there's better stuff out this week.
Recommendation: Skip this.

Artist: Sarah Jaffe
Album: Bad Baby
Quick Description: Sarah Jaffe's latest that finally reaches the potential of where she's been heading musically.
Why You Should Listen: Jaffe is an interesting songwriter doing her best work.
Overall Thoughts: Sarah Jaffe started out as a bluegrassy, rootsy artist, but went electronic a while back and has said that it was her intention all along, using the roots stuff as a way to advance things. Not to say I haven't liked her electronic stuff, but this album feels like a great leap forward for her on a whole. The songs are tight and interesting, and this feels like what was meant to be for her work.
Recommendation: Worth a listen for sure.

Artist: Shakey Graves
Album: And the Horse He Rode In On
Quick Description: Two EPs from a favorite here.
Why You Should Listen: Shakey Graves does really interesting folky music.
Overall Thoughts: Shakey Graves would be called an anti-folk artist were he debuting a decade ago, I think. His odd, wonderful take on folk music here is a welcome surprise from his first and more traditional release, and I think those who like slightly more adventure who read this will find something to like here.
Recommendation: A solid listen.

Artist: Chris Bell
Album: Looking Forward: The Roots of Big Star
Overall Thoughts: As a general rule, I don’t like to highlight reissues or compilations of existing material for First Listen, but I did want to take a moment to point out how great this collection is. Chris Bell was a key member of Big Star, an influential rock act that seems to finally be getting their proper due in the last decade or so. R.E.M. cites them heavily as an influence (Mike Mills has even worked with members since R.E.M. split), and we’re seeing a good number of Big Star covers hitting the airwaves. This is a collection of some of Chris Bell’s pre-Big Star work, and it is great. I can’t stress this enough – this might be completely new to you, and if it is, you’re in for a treat. The remaster sounds great, the songs are awesome, and this is almost certainly going to send me down a very deep rabbit hole for Big Star/Chris Bell music next week. I highly recommend taking an hour and checking this one out, fan of Bell/Big Star or not. You won’t be disappointed.

EPs of note:

* Air Traffic Controller - Echo Papa
* DJ Shadow - The Mountain Has Fallen
* Olga Bell - America

Also out this week:

* Haim - Something to Tell You
* Melvins - A Walk With Love and Death

Monday, July 10, 2017

Gray Bouchard - "When I Was Yours"

Gray Bouchard, aka the frontman of Salem Wolves, occasionally releases some solo work apart from Salem Wolves. His latest, "When I Was Yours," is just about as far from Salem Wolves as you can possibly get. It's still rock, and it's still an intense song, but it shares very little sonically with his main band. It's more of an epic song, like it was meant to fill up ampitheatrers in the 90's. It has that big quality of bands like U2 or Live, but with a more grounded, raw feel, like a band that normally played The Rat had some pretty big dreams.

You can listen to "When I Was Yours" below. The song is currently available on the Resolution of Happiness // A Radical Resistance Compilation put out by Trimming the Shield Records. It features 19 total songs from bands like The Mammals, Garbage Point, and Ghastly with all proceeds benefiting Lambda Legal. You can get your own copy at Bandcamp. For more on Gray Bouchard and Salem Wolves, check out their website.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Forgotten Fridays: If I Were a Carpenter

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.

Back in the album sales glory days of the 1990's, a record company would throw together some kid of compilation (soundtrack, tribute album, sampler, etc.) without any real regard to basing it on a genre of music. In fact, having as many genres as possible represented seems to have been preferred since the only way to get a copy of the band you loved doing this song was to buy the album. (For any youths reading, this was before illegal downloading, YouTube, purchasing a single mp3 for $.99.) 

This thought process runs rampant in If I Were a Carpenter, a fairly random tribute album to The Carpenters released in 1994. The best known song on here is Sonic Youth's cover of "Superstar," but that's more well known for being featured in Juno, which might be the last hit soundtrack we'll ever see. The rest of the album is a hodgepodge of 1994. You get songs by The Cranberries and Cracker, because it was 1994, and I don't think it was legally possible to not include at least one of them in a compilation that year. Although, The Cranberries' version of "(They Long to Be) Close to You" is an absolutely perfect choice. Other giants of the alternative mainstream of 1994 are represented on this album with songs by Sheryl Crow, Matthew Sweet, and 4 Non Blondes. Dishwalla also pops up doing a version of "It's Going to Take Some Time," a full two years before they broke with "Counting Blue Cars."

Besides Sonic Youth, there is some more indie royalty represented on If I Were a Carpenter. Shonen Knife, who spent the 90's on the very cusp of superstardom if you judged by MTV News and any music magazine, do "Top of the World." You also get versions of Carpenters songs by Redd Kross and Bettie Serveert. Babes in Toyland's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Crafts" is the kind of song you would have assumed Sonic Youth's Carpenters cover would be. They do a louder, crunchier tribute compared to Sonic Youth's quiet, more earnest version.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Parsons Rocket Project - "Exit Launch"

Atlanta doesn't seem like a place for dreamy space themed indie rock to come out of, but here are Parsons Rocket Project. Their latest song, "Exit Launch," starts off as this brilliant and lush indie rock song reminiscent of Tanya Donelly's solo work, and then, after the first verse, this burst of shoegaze feedback kicks in. The vocals come back, but there's this new amount of noise rattling around in the background. Once the guitars come back in fully, you'll be obsessed with this song. My only complaint is that it's only 2:22 long. That barely gives it enough time to get started before it ends seemingly abruptly.

You can listen to "Exit Launch" below. Parsons Rocket Project's self-titled album will be out August 11 on New Texture Records. For more on the band, check out their Bandcamp.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Live Shows: United Folk Festival, Wilcox Park, Westerly, RI 7/1/17

Photo by Ken Sears
In its second year (but kind of its first), the United Folk Festival swung for the fences with their line up. They brought in some of the biggest national and local names in modern Americana music for a free show in a park/arboretum in downtown Westerly, RI. The location and set up couldn't have been more perfect. Two stages were set up on opposite ends of a section of the park and alternated throughout the day. There was no overlap and no having to decide between two artists. You only had to turn around and face the other stage between bands. 

This did lead to my only complaint of the day. The crowd was definitely the sit on a
Langhorne Slim
Photo by Ken Sears
blanket and lounge kind. There was virtually no energy or signs of enjoyment from the crowd besides some clapping at the end. This could have also been since the majority of artists booked fell into the quiet, mellow end of the folk spectrum. While they were all great (Full disclosure: Bringing an eight year old with me caused me to arrive a bit late and leave a bit early, so I didn't see everyone), a little more energy interspersed would have helped out a bit. The set up did allow for breaks throughout the day, which is great if you have kids with you. My daughter and I were able to move to the side and play some frisbee while still being able to watch the performances.

My Bubba
Photo by Ken Sears
As for the artists, some truly stood out. Langhorne Slim was the first artist to ask the crowd to stand and move closer to the stage. Before that, the "no chairs or blankets" zone was virtually vacant for over five hours. He was able to get the crowd to start moving and actually stand, and he transformed that energy into a great performance. His blend of relatively mainstream energetic folk really requires that, and you could tell a good chunk of the audience had almost been waiting for permission to show energy. It was my first time seeing him play a set completely solo, and this might be the best way to see him. He opened with a pair of new songs before settling into the hits like "Changes." His live show is a must see, even if you don't think you're a fan.

Michael Nau
Photo by Ken Sears
Swedish/Icelandic duo My Bubba played much earlier in the day, but were one of the highlights. It would be easy to lump them in with other female folk duos like The Secret Sisters or First Aid Kid, but My Bubba have a truly unique sound. They blend traditional folk (as in the kind from 100+ years ago you learn in music history courses) with a modern sensibility. It creates a truly unique feel since they aren't truly traditionalists nor are they progressive.

On the more progressive side of things, Providence's The Low Anthem brought their completely experimental, atmospheric folk sound to the United Folk Festival. Folk instruments are just about the only thing that ties them to the folk scene. They're much more art rock than folk. As my daughter put it, they sounded like music from a horror film. Yeah, they were pretty great.

Michael Nau was the artist I knew the least about that won me over the most. He has a pretty standard take on the whole folk merging with country/rock thing, but sometimes you just want that. His recordings are much more laid back than his live show, so seeing him in person was a welcome surprise.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for June 30

Celebrate American independence with a lot of new music!

Co-Album of the Week:

Artist: Mise en Scene
Album: Still Life on Fire
Quick Description: A rollicking rock and roll record.
Why You Should Listen: With the glut of 90s-inspired indie rock, this is a refreshing straightforward take.
Overall Thoughts: I think I loved this two songs in, and I know I loved it by the time I was through the fourth. It's just such a great listen - the vocals move effortlessly between primal rock screams and breathy moody stuff, there's a level of rock excess here that would almost seem tongue-in-cheek if this album wasn't so straightforward and great. One of my favorites this week (I couldn't choose), and one that might be in my end-of-year discussion.
Recommendation: A must-listen, surprise of the week.

Co-Album of the Week:

Artist: Ratboys
Album: GN
Quick Description: Latest album by the rock act with a little bit of country mixed in.
Why You Should Listen: Their first album was an underrated gem, this one might be better.
Overall Thoughts: Once upon a time, I heard someone compare Ratboys to Sheryl Crow's 1990s efforts, and there's some truth to that - Crow's first couple albums were very solid and hold up surprisingly well even if she's gone off the rails in the last decade. GN is the sophomore effort that we all hope for from our favorite acts. It continues with that immediacy, the weird mix of sounds that doesn't feel like it should work, and yet still feels better produced and more updated. Nothing about this is flawed.
Recommendation: Also a must-listen, this could become your favorite band.

Artist: Kacy Hill
Album: Like a Woman
Quick Description: Electronically-tinged R&B.
Why You Should Listen: Think if someone like FKA Twigs was making music to try and hit the radio.
Overall Thoughts: This is really interesting, possibly really great. Kacy Hill is doing a real soulful thing with a lot of interesting production, but it almost feels too polished in a way. This sort of presentation feels radio-ready and it takes away from what one might think would be more spontaneous. Overall, I feel like I'm damning a good record with faint praise, but I can just see it turning a lot of listeners off.
Recommendation: Good, but possibly not great.

Artist: The I Want You
Album: Now That's What I Call Music
Quick Description: Retro-style indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: There's plenty of sharp songwriting here.
Overall Thoughts: Yeah yeah, more retro stuff, etc etc. This seems a lot more sincere and a lot more fun when it's playing those parts up. I honestly feel like its a hit-or-miss album from a pure song standpoint, but you can't beat something this earnest.
Recommendation: A solid listen.

Artist: James Elkington
Album: Wintres Woma
Quick Description: Folky solo debut from a Wilco tourmate.
Why You Should Listen: This is like some of the solid British folk music that is always so welcome.
Overall Thoughts: I thoroughly enjoyed this, both for the music and the musicianship. It's not Nick Drake-like, but it has its moments, and it's just a quiet, lovely little record that feels like it's already flying under the radar. If you like folk music (or even if you don't)...
Recommendation: ...check this out.

Artist: Washed Out
Album: Mister Mellow
Quick Description: Latest from the chill indie electro favorite is a little more chill than normal.
Why You Should Listen: Remember "I Feel It All?" It's a lot like that.
Overall Thoughts: Of the acts that I didn't expect to go the route of "I had a big hit, so now everything will sound like it," Washed Out seems to follow up a well-received song with more of the same. This isn't a bad thing in this case, since his sound lends itself well to it, but instead of being something that further advances the envelope as it were, there's a familiarity here that you might not have expected from Washed Out. So it's not bad - it's actually pretty good - just not mind blowing.
Recommendation: Perfectly fine listen this week.

Artist: Banditos
Album: Visionland
Quick Description: A time capsule of an indie release.
Why You Should Listen: This sounds like it was ripped off of a radio station from 40 years ago in a lot of ways.
Overall Thoughts: It's shocking how much this sounds like something that shouldn't exist in 2017. I was continually surprised by the nature of this, which is something that doesn't happen very often. This is a strange and wonderful album that's almost certainly guaranteed to put a smile on your face, and I look forward to future listens to see what it is I missed.
Recommendation: Definitely worth some time.

EPs of note:

* The Mynabirds - Be Here Now Part 1 (fun, breezy, poppy indie rock)
* Emilia - Down to the Sadness River (I only wish this were more than 15 minutes long)
* Henoheno - Remember EP

Also out this week:

* ZZ Ward - The Storm (sort of emblematic of the pop-ification of alt-country that has been a little mixed for me)
* Calvin Harris - Funk Wav Bounces Volume 1
* Beach House - B-Sides and Rarities

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tristen - "Got Some"

Photo via Facebook
We've been pretty big on Tristen ever since discovering her opening for Justin Townes Earle back in 2012. Her sound has evolved from her alt-pop country to a more straightforward pop sound. Since I hate pop music, you'd think I wouldn't like her new sound, but somehow I like it even more.

Her new song, "Got Some," might be the best she's ever released. It's pop, sure, but it has a weight to it missing in most pop music. It feels closer to what was considered pop back in the 60's while still sounding modern. It has a distinctly Nashville feel without being country. The dueling crunchy and light, poppy guitars working as an almost call and response with Tristen's verses might be my favorite part. It's the kind of brilliant pop song that just doesn't get made enough these days.

You can watch the video for "Got Some" below. Tristen's new album, Sneaker Waves, will be out on July 7 via Modern Outsider Records. For more on Tristen, check out her website

Mr. Lif & Akrobatik (The Perceptionists) featuring Syne - "Hose Down"

It's been twelve years since the last album from The Perceptionists, aka Mr. Lif and Akrobatik. In recent years, Mr. Lif had a near death experience in a tour bus crash and Akrobatik had heart surgery. Both events led to the reunion of The Perceptionists.

"Hose Down" is directly inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and the near constant reports of police brutality. For a hip hop song, the music is kept to a bare minimum, really barely more than beats. It's awkward sounding and slightly out of tune, which fits the mood of the song perfectly. It's hardly a banger, but it's one of the most tense songs you'll hear all year. It feels the way Wu-Tang used to feel, but more intense.

You can watch the video for "Hose Down" below. The Perceptionists' new album, Resolution, will be out July 28. You can pre-order a copy at Bandcamp. You can also get a copy of their previous single, "Grab Hold," for free on Bandcamp. For more on Mr. Lif and Akrobatik, you can check out Mr. Lif's website and Acrobatik's Facebook.