Dead Oaks EP
This Minnesota three piece forced their way into my consciousness as a pleasant surprise this year – thanks to a tip of a Facebook friend’s post (yes, this works for promotion – word of mouth!). That song happened to be the standout breath of fresh air “Threads.” Now, I will admit up front, that this is still my favorite song on the album. It is such a perfect song. It is at once atmospheric and driven with urgent momentum. Lyrically, the metaphor of the thread and the ease of pulling it to “watch it unravel” is excellent. This song could easily fit right in with anything off of Lush’s creative highpoint 1994’s Split. It turns out Threads is their second long player – first for Chris Walla’s Trans- label. They used to be known as Now, Now Every Children and their debut is actually worth checking out. Threads, however, is a big step forward. They have an incredible knack for finding a succinct way to communicate the confusing and frustrating habits that we all form in relationships. You know those little things that we do unconsciously (sometimes) to sabotage everything? Or more commonly, there are prime examples of self sabotage everywhere by not letting go, when it is time to move on – as in the true album opener and standout “Prehistoric” (“I’ll say that I’ve been trying to move on, but we both know I’m not”), or settling for less in the melancholic “But I Do” (I am what you need when you can’t find it somewhere else / I am what you want when you don’t want anything else”), or in the resigned sigh of “Separate Rooms” (“I’ll stay right here and carry you / While you clear your head and I grind my teeth”). Musically, this is all fairly solid too. Their best moments come when they strive for big dramatic moments and there aren’t enough of those here for me. Sometimes the songs bog down a bit – partially due to the overly heavy snare sound throughout, but that is a minor squabble that is more about production than anything. This is excellent and definitely a band to keep an ear out for.
Their Trans- label debut is the Dead Oaks EP, which is three songs, but two of them are on the album (“Dead Oaks” and “School Friends”), so it’s not really worth seeking out. However, “Dead Oaks” is a fun short dry strummer that conveys the longing of missing someone from far away, while “School Friends” is an encapsulation of a confusing noncommittal guy and someone who probably shouldn’t be interested in him “You have a girlfriend, but she’s not your girlfriend”). The only non LP track is the slow dragging “Shifting,” which is clearly B material and for completists only. This song is also available on a Record Store Day split 7” with label mates The Lonely Forest (2011’s #15 pick seen here, who offer up an alternate version of their song “Woe is Me” that really rocks!).
Corin Tucker Band
Kill My Blues
(Kill Rock Stars)
The second album from Corin Tucker’s Band is kind of a second comeback already. When she released 1,000 Years in 2010 (my #5 pick seen here), she was throwing off four years of public dormancy after the demise of her legendary band Sleater-Kinney. Though an excellent album full of deeply felt songs, it is a tad stiff and sterile sounding, which sometimes can happen when trying to make the perfect album. That was her first comeback, now we have the band as a four piece and some touring under their belt and some genuine cohesiveness and life! This album is a return to the rock and some outright joy musically. There is out and out fun to be had in the energetic summer songs “Summer Jams” and “Neskowin” (which hits home since I grew up a few miles south of this quaint and mostly unspoiled coastal community). No need to worry though, it’s not all fun and games, because Tucker has not abandoned her unceasing ability to tackle big time issues with the deftest touch possible. The opening “Groundhog Day” addresses her disappearance from the world of music during a stretch where women’s rights and personal freedoms have been under warped political scrutiny, which is when the world needed her strong voice the most. The album starts with the line “Huh? Que pasa? I’ve just woken up like Rip Van Winkle in a denim mini skirt,” and then continues to question what happened: “Did I lay down? Did I fall asleep on the backs of the women who have come before me?” The big celebration, however, is that her big voice and guitar are back up front and in your face and in the red and with a feeling that she’s back from her hibernation for good!
Corin Tucker Band-Neskowin
Out of Sight, Out of Town
“At the Lake” 7”
(Where it’s at is Where You Are)
I’ve had this album the entire year, but it wasn’t till the end of the summer that its magic fully cast its spell on me. Standard Fare’s debut album, The Noyelle Beat (2010’s #3 pick seen here), was an instant and massive favorite. The band’s enthusiasm and exuberance, along with some neat songwriting, made for an indie pop classic that has ruled my little music world ever since. Maybe my expectations were too high for the second long player, because although I liked what I heard, it didn’t grab me as much. However, after a lot of listens and some reflective late summer moments, and the release of a non-LP 7” (see below), I realized that this one is more fully realized and consistent than the first. This is the sound of a young band solidifying its craft and preparing for what comes next (I hope). Lyrically, these boys and girl find a way to weave compelling love/lust stories with tiny details that make their characters come alive. They have painted an interesting world that reeks of a small young incestuous group of friends who may all be way too close, but it sure is fun to listen in on their adventures! Maybe the end of the summer connection makes me think of the cliché childhood question ‘what did you do this summer?’ and these songs feel like an answer - almost like adventures from a camp – but from the perspective of the lustful counselors instead of the kids. This collection includes their two cool a-sides from 2011, the odd end of the world “Suitcase” and their slow down and step back “Darth Vader,” but the new ones, like the opening “The Look of Lust,” (“You look at me right at me/ act like you’re listening/ I keep on talking/ don’t think you’re paying attention”), and the fresh new love of “05-11-07” (“This has been building up for weeks / tonight I’ve got this feeling”) are exciting and involving. Then we find Emma Kupa (whose vocals continue to marvel and entice in a way that I cannot quite place, other than to say that her spirit is greater than her technical ability) cautioning a friend on “Older Women” (“They’ll have you bending to their will / just for some cheap thrill / and they’ll drop you when they’re done”), while guitarist Danny How takes over lead vocals on the club/ one night stand centered “Call Me Up.” This is so much fun and solid from start to finish.
I’m pretty sure it was the summertime release of Standard Fare’s entry into the intriguing singles club that label Where it’s at is Where You Are started this year (The club released seven 7” singles on the 7th day of 7 different months of the year – or some such deal) that not only rekindled my growing love affair with this band, but the second album. These three non-LP songs are definitely not album throwaways or filler either. All of them are catchy and fun numbers that could’ve easily made the album. My favorite is the catty “Girlfriend.” This is worth the effort to track down, as well as some of the other singles from the club.
The magical Icicles entered my world sometime in the spring of 2005 when I first heard their snappy addictive song “I Wanna Know” from their 2004 first LP A Hundred Patterns and I was hooked. Most people will unknowingly be aware of them from their bouncy “La Ti Da” which appeared in a Target ad not long after its release (on 2007’s Arrivals and Departures). “La Ti Da” is a good indicator of this band’s earliest material. They have always been a fun bunch with some light-hearted catchy tunes and matching hand sewn outfits all around. Their “Gedge’s Song,” which is about a cat wishing it could go outside and play, is about as melancholic as they would get. Now, after a five year hiatus, The Icicles return with a big album that is heavy on the melancholy, and a major sense of feeling lost, uncertain and unfulfilled. The opening salvo “Numb” finds the narrator, lead singer Gretchen DeVault, stating “I begin to feel numb / I am no longer young.” Meanwhile, the stunning and dramatic song “Would You Know” begins with the lines “Feeling so suffocated the walls are closing in on me / Too many people / I can no longer breathe / Maybe I could go / would you ever know / if I left today,” letting us know that things are not the same anymore, but who can deny the sheer power and beauty of the lush, dreamy and spooky keyboard waves from Joleen Rumsey that punctuate the end of each downtrodden verse of this magnificent song? Breathtaking. The entire opening of the album is an absolute stunner! “Night Drive” glides along with some positive feeling as we take a refreshing and reflective late night drive, while during the next song we learn that we are riddled with “Insomnia.” Even by track seven, a song named “Smile, Smile, Smile” of all things, includes at least the third reference to ‘walls closing in,’ while our narrator is “driven to the brink.” Much like “Night Drive,” “Bernadine” finds some joy in small things – in this case a change of season from fall to winter – but here it sounds more hopeful than satisfied. It isn’t until the tenth song that we find a truly happy sounding song with the travel song “This is it.” Here we’re led on a contented drive in the sunny southwest that feels warm and welcoming. This is absolutely a stunning and beautiful album and quite a surprise. I never thought that my go to rainy day album of the year would be from Michigan’s Icicles! My only issue is that the album is a little too long. It loses focus after what would be a perfect closer in “This is it.” The final four songs are fine, but they don’t quite fit. They feel like an unnecessary epilogue. Maybe these should’ve been saved for an EP that I would’ve happily shelled out money for. Those first 10 songs though are pure brilliance!
Evans the Death
Evans the Death
“Telling Lies” 7”
“Catch Your Cold” 7”
(Fortuna Pop! / Slumberland)
Oh wow, this is exciting! These 12 tracks fly by with such a rollicking good time on this UK band’s debut album that I am already anxiously awaiting a second offering. These guys and gal throw themselves into every song with fun abandon making each song a short burst (only two songs crack the three minute mark) of energy and whatever emotions they’re trying to convey at the moment. Katherine Whitaker’s vocals are unique and rambling and all over the place and a highlight of the album (she takes a stab at her own voice with the lyric “I scratch you with my morning voice” on the appropriately titled “Morning Voice”). She is in full command of each song in the same way that Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa does and I have to say that I approve (she also reminds me of the woman from that Cold Case show)! The Standard Fare comparison isn’t too far afield either, because they share similarities from the 80s UK indie scene, but instead of the crisp clean approach of Standard Fare, Evans the Death is a looser drenched in reverb outfit. It’s also fitting that they are on Slumberland records here in the US, because there are moments (like the kick ass “Threads”) that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Black Tambourine 7” from 1992, while elsewhere their music and wild abandon rollercoaster arrangements can hint at that label’s Boyracer or Henry’s Dress from the mid 90s. The album deals mainly with the modest moments in our lives that affect each of us more than we’d like to know (“Sorry this was all I could afford / give me a shout if you feel bored / we could go out for a walk” – from “You’re Joking”). There are also some self effacing and funny sentiments throughout, as in the old before their time bitterness of “A Small Child Punched Me in the Face” (“I believe the children are the scourge of the earth….because this generation / is one generation / too many”), and the shut in tendencies of “I’m So Unclean” (“When I’m watching the shopping channel / I will think of you / When I’m making a sandwich / I will think of you”). I cannot recommend this enough - such a breath of fresh air.
The two singles are non essential, except for freaks like me. Both “Telling Lies” and “Catch Your Cold” are standouts from the LP, while the B-side to “Telling Lies” is simply a nice acoustic version of the album’s “Morning Voice.” It’s a great rendition, but it is missing the explosion of guitars halfway through. “Crying Song,” the B-side to “Catch Your Cold” meanwhile is probably their first real misstep as the song is a complete throwaway.
Evans the Death-I'm So Unclean
Dum Dum Girls
End of Daze EP
This release was so incredibly necessary for me. If anyone has ever read this terrible blog I occasionally toss around, you may know that I had a profound experience at a Dum Dum Girls show (2 actually) this year. The immense sadness of the beautiful songs on 2011’s Only in Dreams (#4 pick seen here) crushed me and astounded me at the same time (for more madness, see post here). They also played a short song that was haunting me in a different way. It was so damn catchy that I somehow felt like I knew the song the very first time I heard it. I searched lyrics that I remembered from the show on the web the next day hoping that it was a post punk classic from my childhood and hoping to find the original - but no such luck (keep in mind that these girls have shown impeccable taste with their choice of covers). Finally, early this fall, this release gave me the answers about the mystery song and a format to listen to it any time I choose – and choose I do over and over again. More on this song later. How cool is it that the Dum Dum Girls release genuine stand alone EPs? Most people probably don’t care, but I love it. It reminds me of the old non-LP singles that would pop up out of the blue from the likes of the Smiths and New Order, or those incredible EPs from the so-called shoegaze era from My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Moose, Lush, Ride, etc. I keep getting sidetracked. This five song collection opens with three songs recorded back around the time of Only in Dreams and it is clear. The opening “Mine Tonight” is a heavy brooder that is still stuck in that album’s struggles with death and dying (“Will I dream tonight / there’s nothing left / there is no light”), while “I Got Nothing” ups the tempo a little, but remains resolute to dwell in sorrow and emptiness (“I close my eyes / and recall the time / things weren’t so wrong”). The middle track is a cover of Scottish new wavers Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers,” which continues the sadness (“For I hate the trees / and I hate the flowers / and I hate the buildings / and the way they tower over me”). Dee Dee even removes the slow little shuffle beat from the original and goes it alone with a slowly picked heavily affected (or is that effected?) haunting guitar. The final two songs are more recent recordings after lots and lots of touring and they begin to show some signs of recovery. “Lords Knows” cruises along at a deliberate pace, and has a powerful and heartbreaking chorus. It seems to be about realizing that there is some hope in life with those that we love and who love us who are still around. In other words, it’s time to look up from the depths of mourning loss and embrace what we still have. Finally, the EP closes with the aforementioned mystery song, “Season in Hell,” and its redemptive power is so therapeutic. From the harsh quivering reverbed guitar strum that starts this song to the pounding drive of Sandy’s excellent drumming; this short song is nothing short of perfect. Dee Dee croons “From shards of broken hearts / and tears from desert eyes / something new is redeemed” and it sends chills throughout my body during the opening verse, but that is nothing compared to the big final statement of “Doesn’t the dawn look divine? / Yes, doesn’t the dawn look divine” that is an exhale over top of a chorus of background voices and shimmering tambourine. I can and do listen to this song over and over and imagine that I will do so for a long time coming. The Dum Dum Girls have an excessive amount of heart and soul and seem to get better with each successive record. This is a must have.
Dum Dum Girls-Lord Knows 4.
Eureka 2 LP+CD
I have been waiting, hoping and daydreaming for the last 21+ years that this release would happen and lo and behold it finally has! In January of 1991 I received my first package from the venerable LA based Independent Project Records and their subscription based “Archive Series.” These limited edition 10” vinyl EPs were housed in Bruce Licher’s amazing and beautiful hand printed sleeves and the music would prove to open up a whole new world of music for me. The first two installments for this series were from For Against (their experimental In the Marshes collection, which is among the best work from the legendary Nebraska post punk band) and a double 10” collection titled The Other Side of the Fence by a mysterious California band I had never heard of named Abecedarians. The collection was made up of twelve previously unreleased recordings recorded between 1983 and 1985. I played those records to death – so much so that I had to buy a second copy. I recorded the songs onto cassette and played that till the tape wore thin and broke. The Other Side of the Fence (along with Mark Eitzel’s solo acoustic Songs of Love Live) was my favorite record of all of 1991 and has held a strong grip on me ever since. Maybe it was the mystery. Who were these guys and how could they make such powerful music with so little notice? What was the deal with their strange cross logo? Why did they name themselves after a 16th century sect who rejected human knowledge in favor of visions received directly from God (sounds eerily familiar)? Along the way I was able to track down Caroline Records’ 1988 CD collection, AB-CD, combining songs from their whopping three total releases. Then I finally found their first LP, 1998’s Resin on used vinyl, along with the drastically different version of one of my all-time favorite songs (as I had known it from the IPR 10”) “They Said Tomorrow” on the Scream LA band compilation. I was never able to track down their 1985 debut 12” single on Factory Records (“Smiling Monarchs” – included here and one of only two US bands to ever get a Factory release), or their US debut six track EP Eureka. Well, after this long-winded history lesson that can only possibly be interesting to me, here it is! Pylon Records has graciously released not only the EP, but they’ve added the two songs from the Factory 12”, as well as 6 of those songs from the IPR collection (available on CD for the first time ever!).
Not a lot of this material is new to me, but it is so damn good to hear these songs again that it has been a refreshing breath of air during these dark days of December (this was just released on December 4th). This is, however, my first chance to hear the EP version of the oddly titled and absolutely amazing “Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians,” as well as the very first time I’ve heard the original EP closer “Misery of Cities,” which greatly recalls the airy drive of Joy Division’s “These Days.” This is the first glimpse of where they may have been coming from stylistically. They are a tried and true post-punk band with a fondness for guitar effects pedals. The previously mentioned “Beneath the City…” has a rapid and heavy bass drum drive that keeps the A Flock of Seagulls style of fluttering waves of bass and guitar from floating away. Chris Manecke’s vocals are deep and rich and they write some obtuse open ended lyrics that are ripe for interpretation, or to simply allow the listener to fill in the blanks to create their own story. Also, John Blake’s creative bass playing often finds itself as the lead instrument, much like pioneer Peter Hook, but Blake takes his bass lines into many different directions from song to song. Check out the low end slow fills crossed with sharp plucks in the epic “Ghosts,” or the busy electronic effects of the two Factory songs “Smiling Monarchs” and “Benway’s Carnival.” Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the unique rolling drumming style of Kevin Dolan, which not only keeps the other two in check (let’s just say that many of these songs find a mesmerizing groove and tend to luxuriate in them), but colors each song with a different hue – helping make this a remarkably diverse band with a strong recognizable sound all their own. I could go on and on about these songs and to many I have. I could talk about how the soft and floating “Ghosts,” the creepy dirge “Soil,” or the pan flute introduced “I Glide” have guided me through long late night drives on creepy dark densely forested Oregon highways and byways. And though I am normally one who prefers his songs concise and to the point, the Abecedarians willingness to experiment and fixate on whatever stunning sound they’ve created for a longer stay, only makes me happier. Having said that, it’s the more pop oriented songs like “Beneath the City of the Hedonistic Bohemians,” the New Order-esque (circa Power, Corruption and Lies) “Switch,” and the two heartbreaker’s “They Said Tomorrow,” and “Wildflower,” that have literally brought tears to my eyes with their nervous and itchy bass and guitar interactions, urgent atmospheric keyboard layers, and excellent scene setting lyrics (“This is the gutter I was made to stay in / life is so empty for me / I looked at the girl and explained / wild flowers grow from the trash”). This stuff inspires me, makes me want to be creative and to dream bigger dreams. I am glad that these songs are no longer so inaccessible, because this is a secret that should no longer be kept.
By the way, this is available on CD, as well as double 12” vinyl, and if you order directly from Pylon Records, there are a limited number of the vinyl editions that come with a six track CD, which includes the remaining six songs from The Other Side of the Fence IPR release. This includes superior versions of “Beneath the City…” and “Ghosts,” as well as the catchy, but rough unfinished sounding “Come Out” and as well as a couple of nice short instrumentals. Highly recommended! Now will there be a second release covering the Resin material as well as some unearthed gems? I hope I hope….
Abecedarians-Misery of Cities
Moth 2 CD
(Young and Lost Club)
Finally! I don’t know what took so long, but I’ve been waiting for this LP since 2010. It was early that year that I ran into their “Photobooth” 7” and “You Forget so Easily” 10” EP (#15 pick of 2010 seen here), then they teased again with a brilliant 7” early last year (“Blowing Kisses” 2011’s #6 pick seen here), and again with a free download near the end of the year (“Starlight, Starlight”), but no debut album! I was beginning to believe that it may not happen. Well, it did, and it is spectacular! Much like last year’s Joy Formidable “debut,” the unfortunate part for us who have already put some time and investment in the older material is that half of this album is made up of those songs. However, they have flown under the radar for so long that it makes perfect sense to put together a proper debut with eleven amazing songs. This gets going with the aforementioned “Starlight, Starlight,” which mildly reminds of the Stars via Lush song “Ageless Beauty,” with its chiming keyboards and dreamy vocals. Then we get a couple of new songs with “This Love Will Lead You On,” which recalls the woodsy acoustics and howling guitar layers of first LP House of Love, and it’s lyrical mirrored cousin: the catchy “Emily.” Sprinkled in through the rest of the album are some of the old singles like the stellar “Just a Silhouette,” which is pure poetry with its detailed guitar picks and drunken regrets; and who can overlook the perfection that is the timeless pop classic “You Forget So Easily;” and the driving smasher “You’re So Quiet” (the production from Stephen Street on this song is so much beefier than the remainder of the album it begs the question: why isn’t the entire album done by him?). Lyrically these songs dwell in heartbreak and simultaneous desire for isolation, which is a dichotomy best presented in the beautiful “Unlovable” – a song that is somehow both tragic and uplifting at the same time (“The more I hide the less I can see / here in your arms / everything dies / there’s dust in my mouth and mist in my eyes”). Exlovers to me have drawn from a lot of sources that I really love (and I still contend that the dual vocals of Laurel and Peter recall the one album wonder Everything Last Winter from Fields from a few years ago - #6 for me in 2007), but they sound incredibly fresh. They are smart and nothing here is wasted – though I am curious why the feedback transition between “Just a Silhouette” and “Blowing Kisses” is chopped off! They are clearly meant to merge together, but instead there is an abrupt gap between the two. I suppose in this world of downloads, this is another sign of the loss of “albums,” which are meant to be heard as a whole. At any rate, I am hoping that unlike Fields, exlovers find the will to keep going. I will try my best to be patient for album number two in 2016. Too many complaints from me – this album is a must-have!
The second disc is made up of 4 really nice acoustic versions of standout songs from the LP. The most notable is the super slowed down version of “You’re So Quiet.”
“Northern Lights” 7”
Covers 10” EP
“Only Dust Behind” 7”
(Where it’s at is Where You Are)
Full disclosure: I am absolutely smitten with the sublime voice of Elizabeth Morris, the Australian front woman for Allo Darlin.’ She manages to wring so much heartfelt sincerity out her fantastic short story lyrics. Europe is a marked improvement over their 2010 self-titled debut, but in a subtle indescribable way. Where that album was okay to good, this one is outstanding from start to finish all without messing with the foundation or formula. Maybe this is a case where practice makes perfect. At any rate, the part that I hate is the comparisons – the ‘who do they sound like?’ portion of the review. Well, there are many possible touchstones. The overall feel leaves me with a similar wistful and hopeful vibe of the late 80s Go-Betweens (with Amanda Brown), while Morris’ vocals recall the warmth of sentimental honesty of The Lucksmiths’ Tali White and Camera Obscura’s Tracyanne Campbell when she’s at her sparest moments. Paul Rains’ delicate and busy guitar work brings to mind the tasteful layering of Smiths-era Johnny Marr, while the rhythm section provide a controlled runaway essence that are the lovelorn musings of Morris and don’t get me started on the deep low end lushness that Bill Bottling’s bass lines provide. Need I go on? Whoever I compare this to; it will be one of the all-time greats. These ten tracks all act as little postcards from different parts of the world with varying stages of romantic longings and separation attached to them. “Neil Armstrong” finds Morris struggling with the confusion of being in love, but with serious issues lying just underneath the surface (check out her subtle jab: “why did you say that you miss a simpler time / well so do I and I find myself pining for you”) and stated in the tight chorus “Well I am tired of feeling confused / and lest my words be misconstrued / I can’t separate what’s real but I know I believe in you.” Meanwhile, the lap steel touched “Some People Say” and the energetic “Wonderland” both perfectly captures the nuances of a budding romance. Every song here is fantastic and difficult for me to describe, because it wraps around me like a warm and comfortable broken in jacket. It’s kind of funny that my favorite song is here is the spare solo ballad “Tallulah” (name checking the Go-Betweens’ 1987 classic perhaps?) by Morris, since I love the full arrangements so much. She strums her ukulele and she tells a mournfully lonely tale of separation and a need to run away to brighter pastures (“and I wonder if you would go there with me / when I’m finished over here / if you’re not finished with me”). I think it’s the focus on that voice that I love so much that makes it stand out above the rest – not to mention the detailed and heartbreaking lyrics (“I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that will mean something / and I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that will mean something”). Okay I mentioned them. This is a beautiful spectacle and it feels like one of those albums that will continue to warm and break my heart for years to come.
What a busy year it was for these kids! They released three singles from Europe and hopefully have continued to win the hearts of people from all over the world. The summery strummer “Capricornia” makes for a fantastic lead off introduction single. It is energetic and holds the consistent depth of the album. The b-side “When You Were Mine” is a nice song, but clearly b material compared to that of the album. Next up appeared the “Europe” 7”, which is another album highlight, while the b-side takes the Nashville tinged “Some People Say” from the LP and turns it into a reverb drenched echo chamber slow motion dirge. This ‘alternate version’ gives the song a completely different feel and is worth investigating. Finally, the rocking “Northern Lights” was featured and again is truly the ‘pop song’ of the album. It too is upbeat and wistful and brimming with positivity – like a pep talk from a close friend. Meanwhile, this b-side, “Golden Age” is the best of the non-LP bunch with an addictive chorus. Excellent!
Allo Darlin’ also released late this year two more records. First appeared the Covers 10” EP, which is a compilation of past covers that they’ve released on compilations and such, along with two new ones. The new ones are the big standouts for me. They do the vaunted LP closer from the Go-Betweens’ all-time favorite 16 Lovers Lane – “Dive for Your Memory.” This is a faithful cover, but still of interest due to Morris’ beautiful voice. There’s also a cover of one of my favorite Eux Autres songs (see review elsewhere) from their 2007 album Cold City – “City All to Himself.” Also comes a heartfelt rendition of one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs (Nebraska’s “Atlantic City”), as well as the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” – when Morris was solo and went by the name The Darlings, and Darren Heyman’s fun “Wu Tang Clan.” If you can find this – get it! The last 7” EP is the December entry from the WIAIWYA 7777777 singles club (see elsewhere). “Only Dust Behind” is a soft dreamy wistful song that shows that they are still on a winning streak! The two b-sides are a little rougher around the edges, but “Dear John” is a frustrated lovesick song that is super catchy, and “Kings and Queens” closes this out with another tasteful tune. Whew.
Allo Darlin'-Northern Lights
My year started off by reading Bob Mould’s autobiography See A Little Light, which is solid, but it never crossed my mind how much facing his massive past would clear the way for him to reignite and release his best album since 1992’s Copper Blue (with Sugar). Mould seems genuinely at peace these days and he seems free and open to simply rock and rock he does! It’s not like he went away. His last three albums, since his surprising foray into electronic music (with 2002’s stepping stone Modulate and the full bore leap Long Playing Grooves, his one release under the pseudonym LoudBomb), have been good to great. Yet, much like Sugar’s debut felt fresh and revitalized after his first couple of dark and heavy and, frankly, amazing solo albums, this one does as well. In 1992 I claimed Copper Blue as that year’s best album in my old ‘zine and said this of Mould’s music: “the buzz is a part of his music. It is the melody. There is so much space and tunefulness in his guitar that the feedback isn’t there to hide behind or even to augment – it is everything.” Much like then, I could say the same thing about Silver Age. This time he is even more focused. Even the small distractions on that album are streamlined into a huge force that is a call to re-energize and re-engage. The tour de force starts off innocently enough with the mid-tempo solo rhythm guitar for a moment before the stellar force that is his touring band for the last few years (Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster and Jason Narducy of the much missed Verbow on bass – check out both of these bands, if you aren’t familiar!) joins him with a pounding groove on “Star Machine,” a song about a rock sellout. Could it be a song about some generic big rock star story (think Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins or Axl Rose of Guns n Roses – “You tell the world you had to fire the band / Your little world has gotten out of hand”), or is it a some strange self-deprecating nod to himself in that he never had the chance to sellout, but freely admits in his book that he sometimes let his ego run a little awry? Never mind who it’s about, because it is the perfect beginning for what is to come, because it segues immediately into “Silver Age,” the ad-hoc thesis to what this is all about. Yeah, he’s gotten pretty old (52?!), but he’s still got some serious fire and vigor and can shred the shit out of anyone who has copped his sound over the last 30 years (“Stupid little kid wanna hate my game / I don’t need a spot in your hall of fame, no / what a fucking game, yo”). Then we get his usual third track – first single, “The Descent,” which is such a beauty that it sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it, and there is no volume loud enough to contain it. It is again self-analytical/critical about his career choices and maybe showing a tinge of regret about his electronic waylay (“I didn’t want to play the song / that gave people so much hope / I turned my back and turned away / here’s the rope that made me choke”) and maybe he’s now ready to embrace his life or what’s left of it as his world descends. What makes this song so magical, besides the fiery electricity barely contained in a pop song so timeless and catchy, is his own background harmonies that build an immense wall of depth mixed with his layers upon layers of chiming guitar noise. Jaw dropping. “Briefest Moment” seems to explore his earliest inspiration and drive which led to him getting into music inside another scorching punchy rocker that keeps the sound bleeding into the red. “Steam of Hercules” closes the first half and is the first opportunity to exhale as it slows down the tempo and focuses its attention on the stratosphere, much in the same way that Copper Blue’s closer “Man on the Moon” does. The second half unfolds in much the same way as the first. “Fugue State” opens as a mid-tempo bruiser with drum fills surrounding us before exploding into a brilliant speedy chorus, while I have a feeling that “Round the City Square” is the song that I kind of overlook now, but will one day realize is one of the best (much like Sugar’s “Fortune Teller,” which was a huge highlight from his tour this year!). “Angels Rearrange” cruises in with Mould’s deeper register atop a heavy wall of buzz and a tasteful exploratory bass-line before heading into a sing along chorus. The biggest highlights of the second side come with the two closing numbers. “Keep Believing” literally launches itself off the ground like a NASA space ship and Mould even gives us a positive message as he expresses his joy from finding inspiration in music and how important it is to “always keep believing.” Finally, the album ends, leaving us all exhausted and satisfied with another lyrically upbeat song, “First Time Joy,” which musically builds and builds piece by piece into a giant stomping crescendo. He’s done it again.
Bob Mould-The Descent
That wraps up 2012! I hope you enjoyed and that you'd be willing to share some of your favorites.
The remainder of the Top 40 of 2012 can be found via the following links: