Browsing Category New Albums

Allah-Las

Allah-Las enter a new phase that’s leaving a bit of the bright jangled swagger behind in favor of a more reticent and melancholy mood. Calico Review sees the band temper their sun-soaked views, a hallmark of their catalog, and dive down a shadier path of ’60s-indebted trappings. They’ve always had just a twinge of sadness under their skin, but its usually balanced by a bouncier beat, a tangle of jangles and a sunny chorus. On their third album the band tends to embrace those sighs that were always eking out of their previous albums. Maybe you truly know that that clouds have gathered when a track called “High & Dry” is followed immediately by another called “Mausoleum.”

Despite its grey-skied mentality the record comes off as one of the band’s most enjoyable. The more introspective tone has been augmented with a wider musical palette, stepping away from the simple guitar combo to rope in mellotron, violin and harpsichord; reaching for that ’60s bittersweetness that befitted The Pretty Things on their slide into depression via rock opera on S.F. Sorrow or later period Zombies. Truthfully, the band had to take a turn, three albums of sun and strum can only feel like you’ve trucked into a rut. So its good to see them bumming in the sun and finding a use for rainy beach days. The year could use a good bit of sad swagger and I’m glad that The Allah-Lahs are here to provide. The album also comes with a move to Mexican Summer, expanding the label’s catalog of stalwart indie names.

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Ryley Walker

Emerging from the accolades of a beloved album is no easy feat. Walker’s previous album Primrose Green nailed the stylistic marks of the wave that crested out of the ’60’s folk boom and into the jazz inflections and more experimental lengths that would fleck landmarks like Astral Weeks, Goodbye and Hello or Roy Harper’s Flat, Baroque and Berserk. So where do you go from there? Walker follows his Tim Buckley muse down the line and reaches for the more sprawling and ambling shores of Blue Afternoon. He pines for the expansive reach of Gene Clark’s No Other. One would think maybe he was pushing for Harper’s Stormcock too, with talks of the suited record he originally envisioned. In that regard, he pushes the track lengths here past the scope of typical pop.

Occasionally this works and Walker winds up untethered and spinning into a kind of poetic grace. Other times he’s letting himself stretch a bit longer than the song calls for, allowing some live instincts to drape onto the studio for a track that feels like the session was likely fun that day, with precision players feeling their way to a resolution, but at the expense of the listener’s attention (see: “Sullen Mind”). But when he’s on, he’s on and that’s more often than not. Walker allows his indulgences, as did plenty of those tumbling out of the ’60s and into a more progressive ’70s, but his troubadour’s soul saves him from an experimenter’s curiosity.

It’s taken me a little while to let this one settle because its been too damn hot to even let it into my consciousness. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is an autumnal record for sure. Its the kind of record that’s comfortable with its collar braced against the wind. Some records are, quite frankly, whiskey records and this is one of them. Its not an all night bender, mind you, its the kind of record that finds the sweet harmony between the joy of day drinking in good company and that warm ball of contended sadness that forms about four or five drinks in. Maybe that’s why it meanders a bit, in that state everything seems like a better story and there’s a tendency to become a bit maudlin; to ponder mistakes and religion and fate. The record stretches out and wraps its arms around the listener like a bar buddy it’s never known sober and one whom it hopes will listen to its woes a little while and nod sympathetically. There’s a charm to that kind of person and in turn that kind of record. Walker’s an accomplished musician and Golden Sings showcases his ambition, even when it gets the better of him.




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Ausmuteants

Ausmuteants third record of mind-flayed punk finds the band just as bracing as they’ve always been, tearing through blistered tempos, mutant squalls and the same blend of new wave weirdness and tenacious bite that’s borne them into RSTB’s hearts time and again. There are plenty who seek to pick up the yoke that was once held high by a nascent DEVO and chewed like glass in the mouths of Chrome, The Screamers or Magazine, but Ausmuteants have rightfully nailed the squirming eye of sci-fi infected punk. Practically every inch of Ausmuteants sounds like its inhabiting the world of Otto Maddox from Repo Man, Crabs from Dead End Drive-in or Rebeca Buck in Tank Girl. They’ve got the pent-up fury and the punch to the throat that gets things started, but what Ausmuteants have really going for them is that syth strain of sci-fi flash that feels like they’d have understood the weirdness and rolled with it.

The band smoothed a bit for Order of Operation but they seem to have gotten their blood boiling again on Band of the Future. The angles are sharper, the synths squirm at the touch and vocalist Jake Robertson is lyrically eviscerating any subject he chooses to lay into. Sure there are some that might scoff at the title Band of the Future, given that the ’70s influences that drive them are so open and apparent. But here’s the thing, when bands like Devo or The Screamers or Chrome brought their apocalyptic punk to the masses, there was genuine worry for a nuclear winter. There was a very real threat of wasteland politics on the rise. I’m not so certain the music of the future isn’t still rooted in this kind of fanged blast of charged punk, ready to bolster unhinged courage in the face of societal breakdown. Seems like there’s an air of apocalypse gathering in the public consciousness once again. If we’re getting closer to that Thunderdome each year, there’s not much else I want blasting from the speakers of my own scrapyard conveyance than a bit of Ausmuteants.



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Mozes and the Firstborn

Tightening up their focus from their eponymous debut, Dutch band Mozes and the Firstborn mine a wealth of alternative rock and ’90s/’00s power pop on Great Pile of Nothing. Produced by the band’s drummer, Raven Aartsen, they’ve nailed the hi-fi hum and grunge flecks that dominated the airwaves, teen movies and mall speakers in the ’90s, but they’ve taken the lyrics on a more introspective bent this time around. In that respect they take a nice chunk from the Fountains of Wayne/Matthew Sweet camp. Its a sweet and frothy album on surface inspection but its crawling with anxiety, depression and self-doubt under the skin. The band knows that a song depicting the housebound lifestyle of an obsessive-compulsive goes down sweeter with a chunky guitar riff, that a tale of cringing self-sabotage needs a hundred foot hook and that there’s nothing wrong with embracing the bittersweet.

The production and songwriting are certainly more consistent on Great Pile of Nothing, its more about building an album through subtleties, which means there seem to be a few less obvious standout earworms this time around aside from the kicker of a title track. But while they often fall into a flatter tone, they buoy the album back with the winsome emotion and enough pop shading to make this one the kind of comedown album that’s welcome on the right kind of rainy day. Great Pile of Nothing winds up less of a world shaker than a friend to lean on, its introspective nature shifts it more towards a comforting blanket adorned in brightly colored patterns. But that’s no slight, there’s a market for comfort. Everyone needs a bit of sympathy these days.




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Scott & Charlene’s Wedding

Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, and more directly songwriter Craig Dermody, has been touted as being the voice of a generation. That’s a hard nut to swallow and quite a lot of pressure for someone who seems more likely than anyone to scoff at such assumptions. Dermody has a deft ear for melody though and a shaggy countenance that does makes his day-in-the-life stories seem a bit more profound than they are at base level. The songs on Mid Thirties Singles Scene are slightly refined from their past efforts, but never self-serious. Its the kind of album that can make a song about eggs and shit jobs feel like a shoulder to lean on and a light teasing at the same time.

2013’s Any Port In A Storm had a loose hopefulness to it. Craig Dermody had decamped to New York, setup with a new band and found a kindred spirit in the city’s ability to absorb newcomers, deflect responsibility and crash from couch to couch. As Dermody readied Mid Thirties Singles Scene, he returned to Melbourne and has rather amiably captured the current wave of youth that’s tied to jobs that pay enough rent, nights at rehearsal and the smaller comforts of a few friends, pints and football. The past years’ hopefulness has slid into a crooked grin and a laugh punctuated with sigh. In that light, maybe he’s not the voice of a generation, but he’s certainly got his particular demographic well pegged.

Dermody has a perfect knack for imperfection. He’s found a home in the shaggy squall of Pavement’s shambling delivery paired with pop-freckled noise. The general relaxed exterior can sometimes let down the listener’s guard, leading to a wry smile when Dermody drops sparkling pop nuggets in the mix like “Distracted” or “Don’t Bother Me.” There aren’t many that can find enlightenment in repetitive stress careers, delivered weed and a few beers and wrap it up without cliche but Dermody finds a way to make it seem enviable. The rest of the world isn’t immune to its own packs of directionless youth, but somehow the Aussies have been nailing the finder shading on the class portrait. Dermody’s pulled it all off with an air of wearied charm that’s pushing him to the top of the heap. Maybe he’s not the voice, but he’s getting pretty damn close.



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Tomorrow The Rain Will Fall Upwards

Finding a hole to pin the sound of Tomorrow The Rain Will Fall Upwards is almost as difficult as trying to track down information on its creator. The purposely elusive project on Blackest Ever Black came to light with a similarly stunning but hard to categorize EP from 2014. Now with a full album’s length to play with they (he/she/?) take the dub inclinations from the EP and work a smear all over the map of experimental electronic, dub housed soul, Tropicalia, synth, and noise. Each song shifts gears entirely from the one before, held together most tellingly by an atmosphere of bass, echo, and foreboding yet billowy synth. The tone is overtly political; couched within those dub valleys and darkened corners are references to women fighting oppression through history, The Spanish Civil War, the UK miners’ strike and the final track plays out with a portion of the Socialist anthem The Internationale.

That inclusion speaks well to the shadowy nature of T.T.R.W.F.U., as the original writer of music for the anthem also concealed himself to save his job from scrutiny. Wreck His Days comes as a bold statement in a time of shifting political realities, both in the band’s native UK, with the fallout from Brexit and an uncertain future of unification, and here in The States with our own twinge of political upheaval and two very divergent but outspoken populist takes on candidacy. Something like this feels like it nails the anxiety, the hope, the fear and the uncertainty of politics in 2016 (or more precisely the 2015 ramp up to it that surrounded the album’s making). The album ends on a hopeful note of Socialism, The Internationale has a theme that can’t help but resonate through leftist politics of any country, but T.T.R.W.F.U. raises more questions than answers. The album alludes to a new shift in the winds, but only hints that the people will see it through. Though I suppose if you’re looking to music to provide all the answers then you’re maybe expecting a bit too much. Its a grand statement that sharpens focus the further you back away from it.



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Sam Coomes

Sam Coomes is tied to a lot of lush and rather put together pop music, from his heyday in Quasi (though they had some cracks in the sheen to be sure) to Heatmiser’s alt-pedestal ascension and Built To Spill’s major label moments. So its fun to see Sam just let loose. There’s a manifesto behind the sonic stripdown and it has to do with too much access to home recording technology and creating art rather than artifice, but truthfully the more telling bit has to do with liking practical effects in old movies. Coomes is right, there’s a certain grace to seeing the cracks in the surface and watching the animatronics move under the creepy robotic animals’ faces. Think the Rock-Afire Explosion playing on through a horrendous restaurant fire and you’re getting there. In that regard, Bugger Me is Coomes slapstiched version of a Suicide dreamscape, full of haunted organ and junkyard beats from a castaway rhythm box. It feels like a DIY puppet show might spring up at anytime with tiny marionettes banging out wheezy organ lines and a few stings getting tangled in the process.

It’s not the glowing pop orb of Quasi’s sound that he brings but rather his own hangdog sadness that’s always seemed a great part of his own songs. Coomes could always play the part of the downtrodden drinking buddy, but here he’s gone full junkyard Tom Waits to prove his commitment. The album’s got charms like a late night stumble on an lost b-movie; MST3K without the commentary, just bad effects and endearing moments that make you want to laugh through the pain.




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Chook Race

Amping up the pop from last year’s About Time LP, Chook Race are due to issue their new album on Brisbane’s always awesome Tenth Court and the ever reliable Trouble in Mind here in the states. They’ve smoothed the wrinkles and delivered an album that draws on Flying Nun’s jangled past as well as some more Americanized indie pastiches that feel welcome in their hands. While the dreaded D word hasn’t crossed into the US with regards to Aussie pop, abroad Dolewave rules and Chook Race have largely steered clear of what would normally be the hallmarks of the current indie ripple, though they do have a tendency to meditate on the everyday hangups that quirk up our lives. They break apart from the pack though and trade shaggy swagger for a crisper sense of melody and a sparkle that gives the songs on Around The House a yearning quality that’s less aloof than it is quietly lonesome and incredibly catchy.

The band have a handle on winsome pop that’s not knotted up in rote lackadaisical jangle as much as it bounds from the bounce of strings to driving buzz in an instant. The band kicked the surf out of their system for the most part and found a new friend in the heart of the Athens, GA songbook – think more R.E.M. and Elf Power than Pylon and B-52’s. They knock around a mix of guy/girl vocals (how come we never say man/lady? Is it that rock keeps us forever young?) in perfect volleys, spiriting the album along to an almost cruelly quick conclusion. They leave the fans wanting more, while providing a salve for the troublesome clouds of daily life. Honestly, its hard to ask for more than that of a pop album these days. It soothes the savage burn, complements a cup of tea and you can shake ‘n shimmy to it.



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Dead Sea Apes

Manchester’s Dead Sea Apes return to Cardinal Fuzz (Skylantern in the US) for an epic bout of high desert blues and creeping drone psych. The label’s not entirely off base in comparing this to a lost Jodorowsky soundtrack. Maybe somewhere out there El Topo II is awaiting an injection of lysergic heaviness. This might be just the ticket. But even without a cracked psychedelic western as the backdrop, Soy Dios holds its own in terms of conjuring up visual imagery. Rife with tense passages from the outset, the record licks the knife edge and runs the blood along the strings. Setup as a four song suite bearing the album’s title on each track, the band moves from the crushing blow of the opener to creeping distress with calculated ease. There’s a bit of Barn Owl’s expansive drift and curdled unease coursing through Soy Dios and the album seems to have studied well at the altar of Earth’s Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method.

To lump it as merely cribbing from those sources, though, would be to give the album less credit than its due. They hold much in common with those two bands, but its clear that over the last few years Dead Sea Apes have been building up to this cycle of songs. The album arcs with a vision, slashing wild and dragging the listener through the parched flatlands of pts. II and III with precise tension and a sense of abandoned hopelessness. In fact maybe we round back to that Jodorowsky parallel once again. Someone get Alejandro on the phone. Tell hims to cast Liam Neeson and set him alone in the parched wilds, snake bitten and feeling the effects; fighting the elements, his grip on sanity, and a spiritual projection of his own sense of mortality and failure in the form of a massive cougar. Neeson’s reborn in blood only to die of dehydration, twisting in contorted hallucinations through the latter half of the film, underscored ably by Soy Dios. Was the cougar ever real? Was Liam? That might be the best analogy of how the album feels. Its cinematic, but in a way that feels like a happy ending isn’t waiting anywhere near the culmination of the journey.



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Magic Trick

I’ve always loved that Magic Trick is Tim Cohen’s outlet to go full 70’s Tim Buckley. To wander down Gene Clark roadways and flesh out his troubadorisms outside of the bounds and expectations of The Fresh & Onlys. His voice has the easy, mellifluous quality that lends itself to his payday jangle-pop; but its just as comfortable in a dusted blazer, strumming songs alone in a smoke cloud, center studio to be augmented with all manner of accoutrements in post. Fresh & Onlys is a push-pull between Cohen’s gravitas and Wymond Miles’ furrowed tension, but left to their own devices they’re able to amp up their strengths, as is evident with Miles’ stunning turn earlier this year. In his own right Cohen lets Other Man’s Blues shine as a darker corner of his songwriting, feeling far from breezy, the album is interested more in creating a collective enviornment that utilizes the studio as process and as partner.

The album benefits from a huge, rotating cast of players, as Cohen holed up for a week with Phil Manley but invited plenty of friends to drop by and shape the record. The result is less slap/dash than it its the culmination of several secret weapons all converging as one to give Cohen’s songs wings. James Barone (Beach House) and Alicia Van Heuvel (Aislers Set) turn in time and studio Swiss Army knife Emmett Kelly (The Cairo Gang / The Muggers) rears his head as well. The album certainly doesn’t come off as something that went into recording open-ended, but the collaborative spirit gives Other Man’s Blues that right sense of drinking-til-dawn-to-find-the-song that gave life to those 70′ hallmarks of excess turned brilliance. Cohen may have only spent a week hammering out the cramps on Other Man’s Blues but the mindset of month long jaunts and nights spent ’til dawn in the live room take root here, making it feel like someone lost a fortune for us to all find hope in its arms. Even if that’s not the case, the record’s still bigger sounding than most living rooms, cars or headphones can hope to contain and for that I’m grateful.



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