Posts Tagged ‘Alternative’

Mozes and the Firstborn

The idea behind Dadcore – embracing rock as a medium in an era when its seen as a stubborn, antiquated, passé artform – is amusing, though I’m not sure that rock has been completely erased from the vital lexicon just yet. There are still plenty of scraped-knee punks, jangle-jilted Aussie youths, and depression channeling post-punks to keep the blood strong these days, though what’s on display here is a more specific strata of the rock canon. The touchpoints that drive the Dutch band’s latest album are decidedly “classic” in nature, pulling from a trove of nostalgia-ready ‘90s and ‘00s indie that, according to the band, should appeal to your pops, granted that, “you” in this case, are around 9-14. Along with veteran indie producer Chris Coady at the helm, the band conceives a self-styled mixtape love note that acts as a Teflon coating against the critique that Dadcore is just a reworking of past tropes. That’s exactly what they’re aiming to do. Thank you quite nicely for noticing.

Granted, since I likely fall in the core demographic for the album, I cannot be unblemished or unbiased. I’m wholly unopposed to the raised specters of Teenage Fanclub, Dino Jr., Fountains of Wayne and Camper Van Beethoven that find their way splattered all over this record. The band weaves the nerd warble of power pop through the narrative like a talisman, and aside from the ghosts of psych-folk, few genres raise a flag around here like power pop. Mozes and the Firstborn are bouncing buoyant choruses off the ionosphere and pulling in transmissions from the core of the college radio era, when CMJ had a stake in the game (RIP) and the alternative banner waved wild and free. There’s a bit of a disrupted flow with the crutch of that mixtape format (each track is separated by a short burst of dialog or interlude that staples it ceremonially to the next) but for the most part their vision is clear. Coady and the boys have created a referentially yet scruffily catchy record that’s truly comfortable in the guise they’ve chosen. MATF are having fun, and that in itself is infectious.



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Mope City

While its tempting to battle the deluge of current events with dips into sunny distraction and plastic pop, there’s something comforting about slipping into a narcotic pool of blissful disconnect. For a good swath of the ‘80s and ‘90s there was a production pinpoint to turn to when just such a sound was needed. As much as Steve Albini built his empire of sound on the unflinching light of austerity, his counterpart Mark Kramer built his own brand basking in the warm glow depression pop. Sydney’s own downer step-children Mope City are echoing the highlights of Kramer’s production canon – from the woolly jangles and slightly askew harmonies of Galaxie 500 to the grey-skied vocal wallow of ‘90s Low. Its only appropriate, then, that the band should dial up the legend himself to put a mix and master on their sophomore LP.

The band’s songs echo their moniker like a mission statement. There are cracks of light in that peek in through the blinds, but for the most part the band is lacquering the inside of the bell jar with the windows closed and the fumes bring on enough of a buzz to dull the pain awhile. It’s clear that of their aforementioned alt touchstones, the group has spent the most time with the catalog of Boston’s finest slowcore trio. Mope City’s got Galaxie’s disaffection and echo-chamber anesthetics pinned to the floor, though the band lacks the luster of Wareham’s liquid mercury guitar solos and their absence is definitely felt. The duo’s pulling off depression pop and a slowcore revival admirably well, if not necessarily moving the dial forward all that much from its 1990 heyday.

News From Home succeeds the most when it breaks just a touch out of its own head. The key change breather and ebullient strings on “Excuses Start To Thaw” floats the song to the top of their heap along with the slouched swagger of “Medicine Drawer”. Its clear that the band is onto something, and separating themselves quite nicely from the pervasive trends that abound in their home country’s indie union. The best mope-pop worked well when we listeners could believe there was some kernel of hope inside. When Mope City rest on their heels and let the dirge overtake the day then it muddies the songs a bit too much, but when they nail the balance of hope and despair, the record becomes much more than an homage to an era separated by time and 9500 miles of tide.



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Mixtape: This Is Aus

Ok please allow one more year-end indulgence here in the form of a recap mixtape. It should no longer be a surprise that I have a sweet spot for Aussie indie, and as the genre has made up so much of the site’s direction in the last year, I’ve decided to round up some of my favorites into a massive mixtape that should keep you busy for a few hours and serve as a primer to those looking to break the seal on their Aussie pop habit. Plenty of usual suspects arise in the label department here with representation from RSTB favorites Bedroom Suck, Anti-Fade, Lost and Lonesome, Poison City, Hobbies Galore, Milk! Records, Flightless, and Tenth Court alongside internationally friendly harbors like Trouble in Mind, Upset The Rhythm, Share It, Kanine, and Emotional Response. There were plenty of offerings to love this year from the South Hemi, so get cracking on that listen. Click below for tracklist and stream.

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Adam Hattaway and the Haunters

New Zealand’s Melted Ice Cream collective binds up a loose collection of jangle-prone, indie scrapers and post-punk purveyors with just the right mix of off-kilter sensibilities to keep the mind spinning. The label adds the solo debut from Christchurch’s Adam Hattaway (of Wurld Series) to the stable and it’s a delirious mishmash of crimped-tinfoil punk, fuzzgut indie and wistful power pop that laminates the Memphis school into a hot glued gauze. Hattaway might not be pulling down Big Star soul, but he’s getting runner up vibes a la The Hot Dogs on “Turn Around” and “Too Tired” and making it sound sweet. The dial twisting approach poaches well from his country’s past just as often though, finding a wobbly kinship with Chris Knox in various forms (his scattershot solo shamblin’ and Toy Love come to mind) not to mention indie lancers The 3Ds or Able Tasmans. Hell, maybe even a touch of Tall Dwarfs creeps in around he crimped edges.

There’s a sense that Hattaway coulda played it all straight – he’s got the hook chops to whip it ‘til smooth – but the record works because he refuses to do any such thing. Tape hiss creeps in to remind the listener that decorum isn’t at stake here. Whenever things threaten to get too close to the kernel of pop, Hattaway stomps down on the squelch to twist the feedback knife a little closer to chaos. As much as Australia has a knack for loose-knit indie wranglin’, their Eastern counterparts seem to push just a touch further towards the fringe, which is what makes them such a wellspring of great pop. Add Hattaway to that legacy. This collection is rough under the chin, but that’s what made some of the best Flying Nun platters so desirable in hindsight. All Dat Love is proving to be a late entry favorite around here, and I’m keeping an ear to where Hattaway’s headed in the future.



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Superette – Tiger

In the wake of Flying Nun second-gen powerhouse Jean-Paul Sartre Experience’s dissolution around ‘93/’94 the band’s Dave Mulcahy and Greta Anderson picked up hometown pal Ben Howe to round out their new trio, Superette. The album, long overlooked stateside, is powered by moody hooks and a thick layer of grunge fuzz. Produced by Nick Roughan, who also worked on JPSE’s The Size of Food, the record finds itself locked into the sparser end of the ‘90s spectrum, shooting for Albini and Kramer vibes, though skewing a tad more traditional than either producer kicked out at the crack of the grunge era. Like the last wave of JPSE’s output the record embraces less of the idiosyncratic Kiwi-rock and more of their American and UK counterparts, but they hold out some bright spots that keep them from falling into obscurity.

Mulcahy and Anderson were in hunkered down in New York at the time their previous outfit called it quits and they no doubt absorbed all that NY’93 had to offer. There are shades of Sonic Youth and Pixies weaving through Tiger, and while they don’t necessarily make as big a footprint as either of those, naturally, they smash through with “Touch Me” and the clanging “I Got It Clean.” Flying Nun has gone the full measure on this one as well, including the band’s debut EP Rosepig alongside recordings from a planned and scrapped second album. I’d wager than most ‘90s nostalgists on this side of the world are unfamiliar with the trio’s melodic crunch, but with this definitive edition, its worth getting acquainted.



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Martin Frawley – “End of the Bar”

This Martin Frawley album is shaping up to be the “sorting your shit out” record that we all need this year. Recorded in the wake of a break-up and band dissolution, the record was admittedly written while Frawley took some stock and reassessed his life. More often than not, Frawley admitted, it seemed those moments wound up in a bar or two. I understand the impulse, numbness kills the ache and even if you’re surrounded by strangers, its better than sticking it out alone. Few of the songs encapsulate the self-destructive, self-loathing quality that often creeps up during the times that it seems all the load-bearing emotional wall come crumbling down than “End of the Bar.” He sums up the feeling of trading friends for regulars and unloading your problems on fellow drunks nicely when he sings, “You look familiar, you look tired, you look like you’ve dealt with me.”

The song realizes the kind of asshole we let ourselves become when we think its all come undone. As someone who’s spent time on both sides of the bar wood, the drunk that unloads all their issues is a familiar face. Frawley coming to terms with himself and his own insufferable self is as numerous as it is satisfying. Here’s hoping there’s more hubris and hope on the upcoming Undone at 31.



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State Champion

State Champion have been carving their initials in the bar wood for a few records now and this time around the gouge is getting hard to ignore. I’ll admit I’m guilty of not giving the Louisville band enough credit, credence, or most importantly enough time on the speakers. There are a lot of bands battling for the haggard and hangdog void left behind by The Mats, Uncle Tupelo and Camper Van Beethoven, but few are actually able to capture the effortless ease of any of those record shelf regulars. Ryan Davis belts like the best bar band basement chuggers inhabiting your average college town’s VFW circuit, but elevates himself out of the depression dens with his indefatigable wit and an ear for raw melancholy that’s enviable.

The magic of State Champion is they’re wading through an alt-country ramble that’s been picked clean before but making it work like few of their peers. Davis is without a doubt a big part of that. Much like fellow perennial underdogs James Jackson Toth, Ned Collette or Joseph Childress, he’s one of this generation’s great songwriters, sketching out a vision of the American Midwest that’s self-aware, unpretentious and biting. Full of crumpled last cigarette vignettes and bar rag blues, Send Flowers is without a doubt the best vision of their quarter-draft night aesthetic. While the band’s last couple of records wore down the threads on their flannel resolve, this one breaks through the disguise to reveal State Champion as more than just top-billed Louisville royalty.

Its not simply a vehicle for Davis though. While the touchstones of alt-country and bar rock aren’t revolutionary, the band backing him up are nailing the sound with a subtle grace. There are soft touch slide guitar runs that practically weep, fiddle that dances slowly in the corners, and an uncluttered strum that knows just when to step out of the way. There’s something beautiful in a record that lets the listener crumple in its wake. Send Flowers is that friend that will buy a few rounds when that relationship that stretched past the point of breaking finally does you in. It lifts you up with a few great stories and leaves you to think in the cold, numb embrace of the parking lot’s void staring up at the stars – afterward you’re better, even if you’re not better off.



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Jon Spencer

It seems almost crazy, but this is Jon Spencer’s first solo LP. The man’s been holding down the scuzziest deep end of garage rock for so long its easy to take it for granted that he’ll be there, slinging freaky fuzz riffs for the ages no matter who’s backing him up, though. From Blues Explosion to Pussy Galore to Boss Hog, Jon’s there with the right sleaze for all your needs time and time again and I’ll be damned if he’s not there again. First time I saw the Blues Explosion it was a dropped jaw experience. The band was tight, the riffs were filthy and the whole room was filled with a freaky ectoplasm that spread from listener to listener like an infection of groove. That groove is still on hand and it shows no signs of ebbing even with Spencer all by his lonesome.

To be fair there is no real genre that holds Jon Spencer in check. He’s a funk Dennison and a rock Svengali greased by the gods to make your ass shake and your soul drop three floors below into the sub-basement of hell to roast while the narcotic groove rattles around your insides. He’s a wizard, a shaman, a prophet, a mage conscripted to the highest church of burnt ozone brain fry. There’s no cage that can hold his chemical burn barrage and that’s just the way it should be. Spencer Sings the Hits! proves this over and over, with each blast of taut tension that unfolds over these thirty-three minutes of divine damnation. There’s no better freak conductor than Jon Spencer and don’t you forget it.

True, solo Spencer is pretty close to what the Blues Explosion would be doing on the average Wednesday night in 2018, which is to say shimmy-shakin’ through the soul-glo delirium tremens and hoppin’ the bus to the graveyard shift at the fuzz factory. You know what, though, I’m not looking for huge departures from Spencer. I know what I came for and he’s delivering on the demand. Its a perfect dose of melted medulla machinations and in a year when everything is too much to handle, a little bit of freak shimmy is just what the new world ordered.



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Civic

Not long after their last crackling EP, Civic returns with a follow-up that hits even harder. Where their debut boiled down porto-punk into its grit and grease components, there’s a cleanliness and clarity to Those Who No. The three originals here are scooped out of the ‘80s alt-pummel that birthed Hüsker Dü and The Wipers, but also indebted to an earlier strain of hard workin’ but melodic rock from the ‘70s. Both issuing labels (Anti-Fade and Famous Class) are billing it as power pop, but that’s just a touch off. There’s far more sneer here than any power pop band worth their salt ever inflicted. The closest they get to that camp might be “Heat,” but even on that one there’s a touch of pub sweat and punk brashness that makes Civic hard to get a beat on.

Once they throw in an Eno cover, there’s some sense that they’re toying with the slight wrap of glam they’re invoking here, but they take a savvy approach in which they nether sound like glam revivalists or power pop acolytes. With two such short and admittedly disparate releases under their belts I’m putting the jury still out on what to expect from Civic. Are they equally undecided, trying on hats or just having a laugh at it all? I’d love to see a full album from these guys that pulls that glam swagger permanently into this ‘80s pummel they’re working. I want to see where they’d go with a full length’s scope and some cohesive planning. However this and its predecessor are well worth the time and pick up.



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Wingtip Sloat

Wingtip Sloat have never been an easy notion to pin down. Active in the early ‘90s, The Viginia / DC band cropped up on small labels with handmade singles that immediately fell out of print. They found their way to the arms of experimental haven VHF and began a string of idiosyncratic excess with the label that spanned “7s, a couple of albums, and a comp that dredged up more than thirty tracks of pre-label singles and compilation tracks almost lost to the ether. In 1998 they issued their skewed and scrunched pop classic If Only For The Hatchery to relatively warm reviews then all but disappeared. So, it’s a bit of a shock to see the band back with ten new tracks and a deep-pocket dive of archival material that fills in a good amount of the gaps.

Not entirely sure what the band’s been up to in the interim, but Purge and Swell proves that they haven’t lost their crooked smile and pop acumen. The songs are still fishooked by jangles and slashed through with angles – catchy and immediate with overtones of Guided by Voices, Tall Dwarfs, The Clean and The Bats. Compared to a good deal of their scattered back catalog this is as refined as the Sloat has ever sounded and its downright charming. There’s sunny slouch to the new material, sluffing off their more acerbic hackles and, in deference to their previous MO, the record is remarkably cohesive in tone. The band has always had a melodic current jolting under the post-punk bite, but Purge and Swell seems to be digging for earworms like never before.

For the invested Sloat-er the album comes with a treasure trove of songs from the rehearsal rooms and cutting room floors of their past. Like that whopper of a singles comp from the early aughts, this is a lot to digest, but it gives plenty of insight to the band’s influences and process for the curious. There are plenty of short burst poppers, erratic outbursts, and covers that span from Brian Eno to Belle & Sebastian. If this is your first taste of Wingtip Sloat, the new disc is an easy entry, though it doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the depths they’ve dug in he past. Still, as a standalone Sloat, its up with the best. Plenty of great bands get lost in the cracks of culture and there’s no time like now to reinvestigate the ample, winking charms of Wingtip Sloat for a while.



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